• Reuters


The spread of deadly superbugs that evade even the most powerful antibiotics is no longer a prediction and is happening right now across the world, according to World Health Organization officials.

Antibiotic resistance has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country, the WHO said in a report Wednesday. It is now a major threat to public health and “the implications will be devastating,” it said.

“We have a big problem now, and all of the trends indicate the problem is going to get bigger, said Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director-general for health security.

In its first global report on antibiotic resistance, which included data from 114 countries, the agency said superbugs that are able to evade even the hardest-hitting antibiotics — a class of drugs called carbapenems — have now been found in all regions of the world.

“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,” Fukuda warned.

Drug resistance is driven by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, which encourages bacteria to develop new ways of overcoming them.

For gonorrhea, a dangerous sexually transmitted disease that infects more than a million people across the world every day, antibiotic treatments are failing fast as superbug forms of the bacteria that causes it outpace them.

At least 10 countries — including Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Japan and South Africa — now report having patients with gonorrhea that is untreatable.

Only a handful of new antibiotics have been developed and brought to market in the past few decades, and it is a race against time to find more as bacterial infections increasingly evolve into superbugs resistant to even the most powerful last-resort medicines reserved for extreme cases.

One of the best known superbugs, MRSA, is alone estimated to kill around 19,000 people every year in the United States — far more than the HIV virus — and a similar number in Europe.

The WHO said that in some countries, due to drug resistance carbapenems now do not work in more than half of people with common hospital-acquired infections caused by a bacteria called K. pneumoniae, including pneumonia, blood infections and infections in newborn babies and intensive-care patients.

Resistance to one of the most widely used antibiotics for urinary tract infections caused by E. coli — medicines called fluoroquinolones — is also very widespread, the WHO said.

In the 1980s, when these drugs were first introduced, resistance was virtually zero, according to the WHO report. But now there are countries in many parts of the world where the drugs are ineffective in more than half of patients.

“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,” Fukuda said.

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