The World Health Organization have published their first global review of antimicrobial resistance, including antibiotic resistance - with data covering 114 countries - and conclude that it poses a serious threat to public health for everybody, everywhere.
Resistance to antibiotics is where bacteria evolve into strains that do not succumb to drugs designed to kill them. This means when patients become infected with these "superbugs," the drugs no longer work.
The report documents resistance to antibiotics - especially "last resort" drugs, which are the last line of defence - in all regions of the world and concludes there is reason to be very concerned.
Dr. Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general for Health Security at the WHO, warns:
"Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, 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."
Antibiotics have helped us to live longer, healthier lives, says Dr. Fukuda, but unless we act now and bolster efforts to prevent infection, plus change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics, we will lose those benefits and "the implications will be devastating."
Report focuses on bacteria behind common serious conditions
While the report finds many different agents of infection are becoming resistant to treatment, it focuses on bacteria that are responsible for some of the most common serious conditions, such as sepsis or bloodstream infections, pneumonia, diarrhea, urinary tract infections and gonorrhea.
The report finds, among other things, that:
- Resistance to last resort treatments - carbapenem antibiotics - against the common intestinal bacterium Klebsiella pneumoniae has now spread to all regions of the world. The bacterium is a major cause of hospital-acquired infections like bloodstream infections, pneumonia, infections in intensive care patients and also in newborns. In some countries, carbapenems are now ineffective in over half of infected patients.
- Resistance to fluoroquinolones - widely used to treat urinary tract infections caused by E. coli - is also widespread. When these drugs were first used in the 1980s, resistance was near zero. Now, for many parts of the world, less than half of infected patients respond to these drugs.
- Austria, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Norway, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden and the UK confirm they are seeing treatment failure in third-generation cephalosporins - a last resort treatment for gonorrhea, which affects more than 1 million people worldwide.
What can be done to tackle antibiotic resistance
The report highlights that many countries lack basic systems for tracking and monitoring antibiotic resistance, and not all countries have taken some of the important steps needed to address the problem. These steps need to happen at national and individual levels.
Better hygiene and access to clean water can keep bacterial infections in check, reducing the need for antibiotics.
For example, better hygiene, access to clean water, rigorous control of infections in hospitals and care facilities, and vaccination, are all measures that can reduce the need for antibiotics.
There is also a need for new diagnostic tools and drugs to help doctors keep on top of emerging resistance, say the WHO.
Individuals are urged to:
- Only use antibiotics prescribed by a doctor.
- Complete full doses of antibiotics, even if symptoms go away.
- Never share antibiotics or use prescriptions left over from a previous treatment.
Health professionals and pharmacists are urged to enhance infection control, only prescribe and dispense antibiotics when they are strictly necessary, and to make sure the right drug is given for the illness.
WHO also urge policymakers to promote and regulate appropriate use of drugs as well as strengthen tracking of antibiotic resistance and increase laboratory capacity. The global agency would also like to see more fostering of innovation and new tools, and for industry to promote sharing and cooperation among all stakeholders.
Meanwhile, Medical News Today recently reported on a study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, which suggested it may be possible to fight superbugs with conventional antibiotics. By combining existing drugs with a new class of agents called metallopolymers, researchers believe they can revitalize their potency to fight resistant strains of the microorganisms they were originally intended for.
Written by Catharine Paddock PhD