WHO: Superbugs Are Getting Antibiotic-Resistant So Fast That Today's Minor Ailments Could Soon Be Deadly

Antibiotic resistance is prevalent in Australia as well as being a global problem. Photo by Vecchio/Three Lions/Getty Images)

Antibiotic resistance is growing at such an alarming rate that already more than half the world’s population cannot be treated for common illnesses, such as bloodstream infections, diarrhoea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhoea.

A landmark study into antibiotic resistance by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which analysed data from 114 countries including Australia, found superbugs are winning the war against modern medicine because of the overuse of antibiotics. A growing number will die from previously preventable illnesses unless urgent action is taken.

The report, “Antimicrobial resistance: global report on surveillance”, says antibiotic resistance (ABR) major threat to public health and also flagged that the problem will have major implications for the treatment of illnesses such as tuberculosis, influenza, malaria and HIV.

In 2012, 450,000 new cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis appeared, while extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis has been identified in 92 countries. Meanwhile, resistance to earlier generation antimalarial drugs is widespread in most malaria-endemic countries.

ABR is already apparent in Australia, where the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhoea, which infects more than 1 million people globally a day, is increasingly resistant to the “last resort” antibiotic used for treatment.

Austria, Canada, France, Japan, Norway, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden and the UK have also reported the same problem. Gonorrhoea may soon become untreatable as no vaccines or new drugs are in development.

Adding to the danger is a high percentage of hospital-acquired infections caused by highly resistant bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

“The world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill,” says Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Security.

“Effective antibiotics have been one of the pillars allowing us to live longer, live healthier, and benefit from modern medicine. Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics… the implications will be devastating.”

Key findings from the report include:

    Resistance to the treatment of last resort for life-threatening infections such as pneumonia, bloodstream infections, infections in newborns and intensive-care unit patients, caused by a common intestinal bacteria, has spread to all regions of the world.
    In some countries, antibiotics would not work in more than half of people treated for pneumonia infections.
    Resistance to one of the most widely used antibacterial medicines for the treatment of urinary tract infections is very widespread. That change has happened in just three decades, since the antibiotic was first introduced.
    As a result people with MRSA are 64% more likely to die than people with a non-resistant form of the infection.

Adding to the problem is the fact that not every country tracks and monitors ABR.

WHO says infection prevention through better hygiene, access to clean water, infection control in health-care facilities, and vaccination are essential to reduce the likelihood of ABR

WHO is also calling attention to the need to develop new diagnostics, antibiotics and other tools to allow healthcare professionals to stay ahead of emerging resistance.

Who says people can help tackle resistance by:

    using antibiotics only when prescribed by a doctor;
    completing the full prescription, even if they feel better;
    never sharing antibiotics with others or using leftover prescriptions.

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