We’re ‘Running Out of Treatment Options’ for Antibiotic-Resistance, Warns WHO

We're 'Running Out of Treatment Options' for Antibiotic-Resistance, Warns WHO

Comparing antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” to the likes of Zika and Ebola, the World Health Organization has issued a stern warning to healthcare experts to direct their focus toward fighting these deadly killers.

According to the WHO’s assistant director general, Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, antibiotic-resistance in twelve strains of superbugs pose the biggest threats, but there may soon be more to battle. Superbugs have developed because of rampant use in livestock feed as well as overuse in humans. The bacteria may pass these traits onto future generations or laterally to other bacterial species.

WHO points to three types of antibiotic-resistant bacteria as the most serious threats to human health: carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and the Enterobacteriaceae family, which includes E. coli and salmonella, resistant to both carbapenems and third-generation cephalosporins.

It also lists high priority concern over MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), and the antibiotic-resistant strain of gonorrhea.

Antibiotic-resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae and shigella, are considered medium priority and still often respond to treatments, but not as well as they used to.

“We are fast running out of treatment options,” Dr. Kieny said. “If we leave it to market forces alone, the new antibiotics we most urgently need are not going to be developed in time.”

The New York Times reports that antibiotic-resistant bacteria kill 25,000 Europeans and nearly as many Americans, every year. Britain’s chief medical officer has called the rise in superbugs a national security threat equivalent to terrorism.

“Most of these deaths occur among older patients in hospitals or nursing homes, or among transplant and cancer patients whose immune systems are suppressed,” notes the Times. “But some are among the young and healthy: A new study of 48 American pediatric hospitals found that drug-resistant infections in children, while still rare, had increased sevenfold in eight years.” The study authors called the rise among children “ominous.”

This is not the first warning from WHO over antibiotic-resistant pathogens. But the organization hopes it will spur more research around the globe. Britain, the Times reports, is offering as much as $1 billion in rewards for any drug developments that can fight the superbugs

“New antibiotic candidates are in short supply, reports the Times, “because 70 years of research have made it harder to find new ones, and because they are not very profitable for pharmaceutical companies. Patients are typically cured with a few pills and, to prevent the emergence of resistant strains, doctors are pressured to avoid prescribing the newest drugs except in extreme cases.

The W.H.O. hopes countries will consider ways to encourage more research. It’s also urging the medical community to work with veterinarians, as the majority of antibiotics are given to livestock where superbugs often emerge.

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