Antibiotic resistance now ‘global threat’, WHO warns

Lab research into new antibiotics WHO called for more preventative measures against infection

It analysed data from 114 countries and said resistance was happening now “in every region of the world”.

It described a “post-antibiotic era”, where people die from simple infections that have been treatable for decades.

There were likely to be “devastating” implications unless “significant” action was taken urgently, it added.

The report focused on seven different bacteria responsible for common serious diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and blood infections.

It suggested two key antibiotics no longer work in more than half of people being treated in some countries.

What we urgently need is a solid global plan of action which provides for the rational use of antibiotics”

Dr Jennifer Cohn Medecins sans Frontiers

One of them – carbapenem – is a so-called “last-resort” drug used to treat people with life-threatening infections such as pneumonia, bloodstream infections, and infections in newborns, caused by the bacteria K.pneumoniae.

Bacteria naturally mutate to eventually become immune to antibiotics, but the misuse of these drugs – such as doctors over-prescribing them and patients failing to finish courses – means it is happening much faster than expected.

The WHO says more new antibiotics need to be developed, while governments and individuals should take steps to slow the process of growing resistance.

In its report, it said resistance to antibiotics for E.coli urinary tract infections had increased from “virtually zero” in the 1980s to being ineffective in more than half of cases today.

In some countries, it said, resistance to antibiotics used to treat the bacteria “would not work in more than half of people treated”.

 

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Antibiotic resistance: 6 diseases that may come back to haunt us

Still think of TB, typhoid and gonorrhoea as infections from the past? WHO’s terrifying report will make you think again
Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria that causes the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhoea

Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria that causes the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhoea. Photograph: Dr. David M. Phillips/Getty Images/Visuals Unlimited

Diseases we thought were long gone, nothing to worry about, or easy to treat could come back with a vengeance, according to the recent World Health Organisation report on global antibiotic resistance. Concern at this serious threat to public health has been growing; complacency could result in a crisis with the potential to affect everyone, not just those in poor countries or without access to advanced healthcare. Already diseases that were treatable in the past, such as tuberculosis, are often fatal now, and others are moving in the same direction. And the really terrifying thing is that the problem is already with us: this is not science fiction, but contemporary reality. So what are some of the infections that could come back to haunt us?

Tuberculosis

TB ought to be treatable within six months once people are prescribed a course of drugs including the once potent antibiotics isoniazid and rifampicin. But today, resistance has emerged not only to these medicines, but to the wider range of pharmaceuticals used to treat the disease. This has led to the emergence of multi-drug-resistant TB, the still less treatable extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB), and even to total drug-resistant TB, which has only officially been confirmed in India. Countries such as South Africa have run out of treatment options for many of their patients and are having to discharge them from hospital. Resistance to TB has reached a global scale with XDR-TB now reported in 92 countries.

Gonorrhoea

The sexually transmitted nature of this infection makes it something many are reluctant to talk about or admit to having. However, it’s long been thought of as easily treatable and nothing much to fear. Once fixable with penicillin and tetracycline, the bacteria behind the disease have developed such high levels of resistance that there is only one drug left that can treat it. Even this antibiotic, ceftriaxone, is becoming less effective. With last-resort drugs losing their impact, this sexually transmitted infection (STI) could spread throughout the population.

Klebsiella

It’s likely that you’ve never heard of this common bacterium, which can cause a wide range of conditions including pneumonia, urinary tract infections, septicaemia, meningitis and diarrhoea. It fits into a wider group of bacteria with the apt acronym of Eskape owing to their ability to avoid the effects of the antibiotics used against them. The acronym stands for the names of the bacterial group members: Enterococcus faecium; Staphylococcus aureus; Klebsiella pneumoniae; Acinetobacter baumannii; Pseudomonas aeruginosa; and Enterobacter. Klebsiella and the rest of this group are increasingly being acquired in hospitals. While we fear MRSA, it is in fact a declining threat in hospitals; at the same time Eskape pathogens are causing more and more problems. As the WHO report highlighted, routine hospital visits or treatments could result in these previously treatable bacteria having fatal consequences.

 

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