With predictions that drug-resistant ‘superbugs’ could cause up to 10 million deaths a year by 2050, a new CSIRO survey has revealed a low level of community knowledge about antibiotics.

CSIRO EMAR project 

[Music plays and an image appears of a blue sphere shape on a black screen which gradually shoots out arms from its surface and becomes a microscope view of a germ and text appears: Australians are confused about germs and antibiotics]

[Image changes to show a close view of the coronavirus under a microscope and text appears: A new CSIRO survey found surprising answers to some basic questions]

[Image changes to show a young girl sitting on a couch and coughing and putting a tissue to her nose while an older female strokes her head and text appears:  92% don’t know the difference between viral and bacterial infections]

[Image shows the older female talking to the young girl as she blows her nose and text appears: 45% wrongly think antibiotics can treat bronchitis]

[Image changes to show an older couple and the image shows the male giving the female some tablets and a glass of water and text appears: 34% wrongly think antibiotics can fix influenza]

[Image shows the male talking to the female while she takes the tablets with the water and text appears: 19% wrongly think antibiotics can cure a common cold]

[Image changes to show a male wearing a full face mask and turning to face the camera and text appears: 13% wrongly think antibiotics can treat coronavirus]

[Image changes to show a close view of a tablet being held between the thumb and index finger: That’s alarming because the wrong use of antibiotics is creating deadly superbugs]

[Image changes to show a male wearing a lab coat and putting a stack of tablet packets on to the top of a box and text appears: 40% of Australians have taken antibiotics that didn’t work]

[Camera zooms in on the packets of tablets on top of the box and text appears: 14% have taken them just in case they get sick travelling overseas]

[Image changes to show a close view of a superbug under a microscope and text appears: Superbugs are bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics]

[Image changes to show health professionals around a patient working on them and text appears: Superbug infections kill more than 700,000 people every year]

[Image changes to show a drip on a stand in the foreground and medical staff working in the background and text appears: costing billions in health care and lost productivity]

[Image changes to show a young girl sick in bed holding a packet of tablets and looking at them and text appears: Superbugs can infect anyone, anywhere, at any age but we can take action to stop them]

[Image changes to show a female working in a laboratory and text appears: Australia is leading the global superbug fight]

[Image changes to show a male and female looking at a computer screen showing various graphs and data and text appears: With plans for a national superbug surveillance system]

[Image changes to show a close view of a super-computer in operation and text appears: The hi-tech system called OUTBREAK would use Artificial Intelligence to crunch hundreds of data sets]

[Image changes to show three children and a dog playing on the beach and text appears: For the first time, we could link data about human health, animals, food, water, soil and air]

[Image changes to show a view looking down on a treatment plant and the camera pans over the plant and text appears: Like a weather forecast, OUTBREAK would predict superbug hot spots]

[Image changes to show cows in a paddock near a fence and text appears: And pinpoint infection outbreaks in real-time]

[Image changes to show a female working on a computer and text appears: Giving us a unique tool for superbug prevention and control]

[Image changes to show two people working in a hot house full of lettuce plants and the camera pans over the rows of plants and text appears: Protecting industry and communities]

[Image changes to show a close view of tablets pouring down in front of the camera and text appears: Saving tens of millions of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars]

[Image changes to show a view of a world globe with networks covering it rotating in a clockwise direction and text appears: OUTBREAK could be used in other countries]

[Image changes to show a close view of different tablets rotating in an anticlockwise direction and text appears: Spearheading the global fight against antibiotic-resistant superbugs]

[Image changes to show the OUTBREAK logo and text appears: outbreakproject.com.au]

[Image changes to show the CSIRO and University of Technology Sydney logos]

OUTBREAK

Additional Resources

The rise of superbugs, which claimed the lives of an estimated 700,000 people globally in the past year, has been attributed to the overuse of antibiotics.

To combat the growing problem, the OUTBREAK project was set up in 2019 by the University of Technology Sydney, CSIRO and other partners. In a world first, the project aims to use Artificial Intelligence to predict superbug outbreaks and stop them before they reach the health system.

The team is also aiming to share trusted information on antibiotic-resistance and build community knowledge in Australia. To understand the current situation, Australia's national science agency surveyed 2217 Australian adults.

Results included:

  • 92 per cent did not know the difference between viral and bacterial infections
  • 13 per cent of Australians wrongly believe coronavirus can be treated with antibiotics
  • 19 per cent thought antibiotics were needed to treat the common cold
  • 14 pre cent have taken antibiotics prophylactically ("just in case") when travelling overseas

CSIRO biosecurity research director Paul De Barro said the results were concerning.

"The misuse and overuse of antibiotics is a huge problem because it's fueling the rise of drug-resistant 'superbugs', which cause life-threatening infections but are immune to normal antibiotics," Dr De Barro said.

"When we run out of effective antibiotics, we’ll be back in the medical dark ages of the pre 1940s, where a scratch or simple infection killed, so it's critical that the public are educated on this issue."

Some estimates indicate that superbugs, also known as antimicrobial resistance (AMR), could cost the global economy US$100 trillion by 2050 including a 5-10 per cent reduction in Australia's GDP.

The OUTBREAK project will use Artificial Intelligence to analyse enormous amounts of data from areas including agriculture, wastewater and hospitals to map and predict drug-resistant infections in real time, and model the best way to manage outbreaks before they reach the healthcare system.

"This is a world-first and a unique opportunity to get on the front foot in the fight against superbugs," Dr De Barro, who is part of the OUTBREAK Executive Team, said.

Until now many AMR studies have focused solely on antimicrobial resistance in human health. This has left significant gaps in our understanding, as antibiotic-resistant germs are also found in animals, food, water, soil and air.

"OUTBREAK uses a One Health approach, which means that, as well as people, we will look at how animals, plants and the environment contribute to antimicrobial resistance," OUTBREAK Chief Executive Officer Branwen Morgan from UTS said.

"This will help us to intervene in ways that will have the greatest positive impact on our health and economy," Associate Professor Morgan said.

"Drug-resistant bacteria can infect anyone regardless of age, gender or location. To fight them, we need to fully understand which ones are a threat to our health and how they are spreading into and within Australia."

OUTBREAK involves 14 university, government and industry partners, led by the University of Technology Sydney. To implement OUTBREAK, the project team is seeking a five-year, $100 million investment from the Federal Government's Medical Research Future Fund.

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