FLORENCE, South Carolina — The World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported that antibiotic resistance is affecting nearly every part of the world and posing a serious threat to public health.
The report consists of data from 114 nations and examines seven strains of bacteria known to cause common, yet serious, diseases like pneumonia, diarrhea, sepsis (blood infection), urinary tract infection and gonorrhea.
Carbapenem, one of the “antibiotics of last resort,” used after all other treatment options have failed, helps fight life-threatening conditions caused by the intestinal bacteria Klebsiella pneumoniae. Unfortunately, resistance to carbapenem antibiotics is spreading to all regions of the world. In certain countries, the use of carbapenem antibiotics is no longer effective for treating more than half of the population infected by K. pneumoniae.
According to the WHO report, the world is quickly moving toward the “post-antibiotic era”—various viruses and bacteria have evolved to overcome the effects of antibiotics. As a result, common illnesses and minor injuries are becoming increasingly more difficult to manage. In the 1980s, fluoroquinolones antibiotics were met with “virtually zero percent” resistance when used to treat urinary tract infections (UTI) caused by Escherichia coli; due to growing antibiotic resistance, over half of patients with a UTI are now resistant to fluoroquinolones treatment.
The rise of antibiotic resistance has grave repercussions, such as causing people to remain ill for a longer period of time and increasing the risk of death. Patients suffering from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus are 64 percent more likely to die than those infected with the non-resistant form of the bacteria. In addition, antibiotic resistance increases the cost of healthcare treatment due to longer hospital stays and more intensive care.
Gonorrhea, which infects more than one million people across the globe every day, is another disease affected by antibiotic resistance. Cephalosporins are a family of bactericidal antibiotics used as the last resort treatment for gonorrhea. However, cephalosporin treatment has begun to fail in multiple countries, including Austria, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Norway, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden and the U.S.
Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Security, warns that the “implications will be devastating,” if proper measures are not taken to prevent infections and change the current ways of producing, prescribing and using antibiotics.
Although some governments and individuals are making the effort to slow the growing rate of antibiotic resistance, the WHO report declares that, “every country and individual needs to do more.”
Policymakers are encouraged to help alleviate the problem by funding and promoting research projects concerning the development of new antibiotics. The WHO has suggested that patients always finish their antibiotic courses (even if they begin to feel better), only use antibiotics that are explicitly prescribed by their doctors and never share prescriptions with others. In turn, doctors should be more meticulous about prescribing the proper type and amount of antibiotics. Additionally, the WHO report provides some guidelines to prevent infections from happening in the first place—better hygiene practices, more access to clean water, infection control in healthcare facilities and vaccinations to decrease antibiotic use.
Fukuda states that effective antibiotics, “have been one of the pillars allowing us to live longer, live healthier, and benefit from modern medicine.” For a safer and healthier future, the global community needs to emphasize a stronger public awareness of the dangers that come with antibiotic resistance.