Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are officially a global threat

The world is headed toward a post-antibiotic era, WHO warned in an alarming new report

Topics: antibiotic resistance, antibiotic resistant bacteria, WHO, public health, ,

Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are here, and they’re presenting a serious, worldwide threat to public health, the World Health Organization announced. The misuse and overuse of antibiotics, according to a new report, has caused the bacteria that cause bloodstream infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhea, among other “common, serious diseases,” to develop resistance to the drugs that were once able to successfully treat them — including, in some cases, even the strongest class of “last resort” drugs.

That antibiotic resistance is a growing problem isn’t exactly news: last September, the CDC reported that 2 million Americans contract drug-resistant infections each year, and at least 23,000 die as a result. The agency stressed that this was likely an underestimation. But WHO’s report is a first for the global organization, and it takes into account data from 114 different countries to conclude that antibiotic resistance “is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country.”

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With high levels of resistance found globally, and in the lack of any new antibiotics having been developed in the past 30 years, WHO warns that the world is headed toward a post-antibiotic era, in which “common infections and minor injuries can once again kill.” Journalist Maryn McKenna has already laid out the terrifying vision of what that world might look like: it includes the end of modern medicine as we know it, and the breakdown of global food systems.

In a statement, Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Security, emphasized urgency in preventing that from happening: ”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.”

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

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