The CSIRO says artificial intelligence could help identify antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Image by David Crosling/AAP PHOTOS

Health

AI used to fight superbug outbreaks

2020-05-16 10:12:09

Drug-resistant superbugs will kill millions worldwide and cost trillions by 2050 because of human antibiotic misuse and overuse, but a new tool could help researchers locate and contain outbreaks before they spread.

Antibiotics are used to kill bad bacteria, but some resistant bacteria can survive and multiply and spread to others, leading to antibiotic resistance. Antimicrobial resistance includes resistance to antibiotics, but also antivirals and antifungals.

A CSIRO survey has found Australians had a poor understanding of antibiotic use with 92 per cent of respondents not knowing the difference between a viral and bacterial infection.

Almost one in five respondents thought antibiotics were effective against the common cold and more than one in 10 say they have taken antibiotics as a preventative measure before they even got sick while overseas.

“There’s a possibility of the idea of ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. Antibiotics have been with us since 1940, and it just becomes part and parcel of how we manage illness,” the CSIRO’s Dr Paul De Barro told AAP.

More than one in 10 people wrongly believed antibiotics could be used to treat COVID-19.

The CSIRO and industry groups have developed an artificial intelligence tool which collects and integrates data from agriculture, waste water and hospitals, and detects certain signals to map and predict drug-resistant infection outbreaks in real-time.

“It allows you to do the risk assessments and work out where you might get the greatest bang for your buck in terms of intervening to stop an outbreak from happening,” Dr De Barro said.

Currently, 700,000 people die from antimicrobial-resistant infections each year, but by 2050, the world could see 10 million deaths from previously treatable diseases, according to the CSIRO.

“It will make things like surgery or treatment of urinary tract infections or pneumonia much harder to effectively treat,” Dr De Barro said.

Antibiotic resistance is expected cost the world economy more than $1 trillion by 2050 and see Australia’s GDP slashed by five to 10 per cent.

“The overall impact on the global economy will be the equivalent of having a global financial crisis every year. It could result in Australians being out of pocket around $15,000 each year.”