‘Superbugs’ that can overpower antibiotics are spreading — WHO

With antibiotic resistance rife across world, a WHO expert says ‘world is headed for post-antibiotic era’

The spread of deadly superbugs that evade even the most powerful antibiotics is no longer a prediction but is happening right now across the world, say UN officials.

Antibiotic resistance has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country, the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) said in a report. It is now a major threat to public health and “the implications will be devastating.”

“We have a big problem now, and all of the trends indicate the problem is going to get bigger,” said WHO official Keiji Fukuda.

Using data from 114 countries, the WHO said superbugs 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 said.

Drug resistance is driven by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, which encourage 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 Austria, Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Japan, Norway, South Africa, Slovenia and Sweden, now report having patients with gonorrhea that is totally 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 HIV and AIDS — and a similar number in Europe.

In some countries, because of resistance, carbapenems now do not work in more than half of people with common hospital-acquired infections caused by a bacteria called K. pneumoniae, such as 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.

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