Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Pose Serious Health Concerns, WHO Reports

Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Pose Serious Health Concerns, WHO Reports
Photo by Greg Ortega on Unsplash

The world is running out of antibiotics that can combat increasing antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a new World Health Organization report warns.

“Antimicrobial resistance is a global health emergency that will seriously jeopardize progress in modern medicine,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “There is an urgent need for more investment in research and development for antibiotic-resistant infections including TB, otherwise we will be forced back to a time when people feared common infections and risked their lives from minor surgery.”

The report identifies 12 classes of pathogens that are becoming harder to treat due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including pneumonia, gonorrhea, urinary tract infections, and drug-resistant tuberculosis, which kills around 250,000 people each year.

To combat these pathogens, the report highlights 51 new antibiotics in clinical development, only eight of which the organization classifies as “innovative treatments that will add value to the current antibiotic treatment arsenal,” reports Inter Press Service.

The WHO and Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative have set up the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership to support the development of new treatments and research for these diseases.

Bacterial resistance causes 700,000 human deaths every year worldwide and has the potential to become “.even more deadly than cancer,” the UN warns, with the capacity to kill as many as 10 million people a year.

There are several contributing factors to increasing antibiotic resistance, including the overzealous use of subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics in agricultural livestock farms. These antibiotics are used both to prevent illness, which would otherwise run rampant due to the close and often unsanitary living conditions of livestock, as well as to promote faster growth of these animals.

While the FDA recently unveiled a new guidance that the agency calls a “significant milestone” in the more responsible use of antibiotics, with the goal of reducing the use of medically important drugs in food-producing animals, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy criticizes the guidance for not going far enough.

“The effectiveness of this guidance depends on how the guidance is followed and monitored through the control of antibiotics in food-producing animals,” says Stuart Levy, MD, a professor of medicine and director of the Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance at Tufts University School of Medicine. The guidance specifically targets regulations that allowed agricultural professionals to acquire antibiotics for growth promotion in livestock without a prescription.

In 2015, bacteria resistant to last-resort antibiotic colistin was detected in swine in China and in both people and in swine in the United States last year as a direct result of these practices.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are also promoted by the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics in hospitals, a problem that was recently addressed by Boston-based startup Day Zero Diagnostics, the winner of the 2017 MedTech Innovator contest, with the development of a test that can identify specific infection-causing bacterial strains much more quickly than ever before, thus allowing doctors to treat infections with appropriate antibiotics more quickly and avoid the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics entirely.

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Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco