Resistance to antibiotics is now a “major global threat” to public health, with “devastating” implications likely unless significant action is taken urgently.
That’s according to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO), which analysed data from 114 countries and reported that resistance is occurring “in every region of the world.”
The report warned of a grim “post-antibiotic era” in which simple infections and minor injuries that have been successfully treated for decades will once again become potentially deadly.
The report looked at seven different bacteria responsible for common but serious diseases like pneumonia, blood infections and diarrhoea, and suggested that two key antibiotics no longer work in more than half of people being treated in some countries.
One of the antibiotics, Carbapenem, is a so-called “last-resort” drug used to treat people with life-threatening infections such as pneumonia, infections in new-born babies, and bloodstream infections, caused by the bacteria K.pneumoniae.
The report said that 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 today’s cases.
It noted that in some countries, resistance to antibiotics used to treat the bacteria “would not work in more than half of people treated”.
The report also found last-resort treatment for gonorrhoea, a sexually-transmitted disease (STD) which can cause infertility, had “failed” in Austria, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Norway, South Africa, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
To make matters worse, more than a million people are infected with gonorrhoea across the world every day, according to WHO.
Bacteria naturally mutate to eventually acquire immunity to antibiotics, but the misuse of these drugs, such as patients failing to follow prescription instructions and finishing courses prematurely, as well as some doctors over-prescribing them, cause the mutations to occur at an accelerated pace.
Assistant director-general at WHO, Dr Keiji Fukuda, said: “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.”
Dr Fukuda noted that effective antibiotics had been one of the “pillars” to help people live longer, healthier lives, 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 world will lose more and more of these global public health goods and the implications will be devastating,” he added.
The WHO says more new antibiotics need to be developed, while governments and individuals should take steps to slow the process of growing resistance.
The report also called for better hygiene, access to clean water, infection control in healthcare facilities, and vaccination to reduce the need for antibiotics.