The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a report that serves as a stark wake-up call to the growing worldwide problem of antimicrobial resistance. The report highlights the need for a concerted effort from both governments and society as a whole to tackle this ongoing issue which poses a “global health security threat.”
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when organisms such as bacteria and viruses evolve mechanisms to evade therapeutic agents, for example antibiotics, rendering them ineffective. We’re all familiar with the “hospital superbug” MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), but that just scratches the surface on this now incredibly widespread problem.
Not only does AMR make infections more difficult to treat, it also means that relatively minor injuries and common infections have the potential to become life threatening. If we don’t step up our game, the achievements of modern medicine are seriously at stake.
In order to compile this report, the WHO gathered and analyzed surveillance data from 114 countries which detailed resistance rates amongst common disease causing pathogens. Amongst the findings was the worrying fact that the bacterial species K. pneumoniae, which commonly causes infections in hospitals and the community, is becoming increasingly resistant to last resort antibiotics, and drug resistance was found in every region surveyed.
Other bacterial species demonstrating both widespread and high levels of drug resistance were E. coli and S. aureus, which can cause urinary tract infections and blood stream infections. Around 20% of tuberculosis cases were also found to have multidrug-resistant TB.
The report also highlighted increasing resistance to antiviral drugs by both influenza viruses and HIV. In particular, they found that drug resistant HIV strains were being increasingly transmitted since between 10-17% of HIV infected patients in certain countries that had never received treatment were already resistant to at least one antiretroviral drug.
Antibiotic resistance is on the rise because of overuse and misuse of antibiotics both in medicine and agriculture. Not finishing the course of antibiotics and prescribing antibiotics when they are not needed both encourage the emergence of resistance. There is therefore a dire need for the development of novel antibiotics before the current ones become useless, meaning that common infections risk becoming fatal.
Hopefully this report will spur countries to come together to formulate a global plan to prevent this ominous situation from worsening, and may also serve to monitor future progress.