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Growing antibiotic resistance threat

A new report by WHO on antimicrobial resistance reveals that this serious threat is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country. Antibiotic resistance is now a major threat to public health. Unless significant actions are taken to improve efforts to prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics, the world will lose more and more of these global public health goods and the implications will be devastating.

Key findings from the report include:

• Resistance to the treatment of last resort for life-threatening infections caused by a common intestinal bacteria, Klebsiella pneumoniae-carbapenem antibiotics-has spread to all regions of the world. K. pneumoniae is a major cause of hospital-acquired infections such as pneumonia, bloodstream infections, infections in newborns and intensive-care unit patients. In some countries, because of resistance, carbapenem antibiotics would not work in more than half of people treated for K. pneumoniae infections.

• Resistance to one of the most widely used antibacterial medicines for the treatment of urinary tract infections caused by E. coli-fluoroquinolones-is very widespread. In the 1980s, when these drugs were first introduced, resistance was virtually zero. Today, there are countries in many parts of the world where this treatment is now ineffective in more than half of patients.

• Treatment failure to the last resort of treatment for gonorrhoea-third generation cephalosporins-has been confirmed in Austria, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Norway, South Africa, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom. More than 1 million people are infected with gonorrhoea around the world every day.

• Antibiotic resistance causes people to be sick for longer and increases the risk of death. For example, people with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) are estimated to be 64% more likely to die than people with a non-resistant form of the infection.

The report reveals that key tools to tackle antibiotic resistance-such as basic systems to track and monitor the problem-show gaps or do not exist in many countries. While some countries have taken important steps in addressing the problem, every country and individual needs to do more.

An important step is preventing infections from happening in the first place through better hygiene, access to clean water, infection control in healthcare facilities, and vaccination-to reduce the need for antibiotics. 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.

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