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Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA, brown) surrounded by cellular debris. (Credit: NIAID)

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA, brown) surrounded by cellular debris. (Credit: NIAID)

Antibiotic-Resistant 'Superbugs' a Global Public Health Threat: WHO

'A post-antibiotic era, far from being an apocalyptic fantasy, is instead a very real possibility for the 21st century'

Andrea Germanos

Antibiotic-resistant superbugs have reached "alarming levels" and pose a global threat to public health, the World Health Organization warns in a report issued Wednesday.

"Devastating" consequences from untreatable infections including diarrhoea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhoea now pose a potential threat in every corner of the world, to any any person of any age, the WHO states.

The report, "Antimicrobial resistance: global report on surveillance," is the first from the global body to look at antimicrobial resistance.

"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," stated Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO's Assistant Director-General for Health Security.

"Effective antibiotics have been one of the pillars allowing us to live longer, live healthier, and benefit from modern medicine," Fukuda continued. "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."

Resistance to antibiotics used as a last resort treat for gonorrhoea — which infects over one million people every day — was documented in Austria, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Norway, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Underscoring the urgency of the problem, the WHO states, is that there are no new antimicrobials forthcoming.

"A post-antibiotic era — in which common infections and minor injuries can kill — far from being an apocalyptic fantasy, is instead a very real possibility for the 21st century," the WHO report states.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last year issued a similar warning on the public health threat posed by drug-resistant superbugs, noting that at least two million Americans now fall ill from antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year and at least 23,000 subsequently die. CDC stated that "up to 50 percent of all the antibiotics prescribed for people are not needed or are not optimally effective as prescribed." It added that "there is evidence that more antibiotics are used in food production" than on humans, and that the "use of antibiotics for promoting growth [in food producing animals] is not necessary, and the practice should be phased out."

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