WHO report exposes rising human resistance to antibiotics

Antimicrobial resistance increases chances of death, undermines modern medicine, says WHO chief

A new World Health Organization report Friday revealed high levels of resistance in bacteria, causing life-threatening bloodstream infections and increasing resistance to treatment in several bacteria causing common infections.

The WHO said that for the first time, the Global Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) and Use Surveillance System report provides analyses for antimicrobial resistance.

“Antimicrobial resistance undermines modern medicine and puts millions of lives at risk,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“To truly understand the extent of the global threat and mount an effective public health response to AMR, we must scale up microbiology testing and provide quality-assured data across all countries, not just wealthier ones.”

The report shows that common bacterial infections are becoming increasingly resistant to treatments.

It says that over 60% of Neisseria gonorrhea isolates, a common sexually transmitted disease, have shown resistance to one of the most used oral antibacterials, ciprofloxacin.

“Over 20% of E.coli isolates – the most common pathogen in urinary tract infections – were resistant to both first-line drugs (ampicillin and co-trimoxazole) and second-line treatments (fluoroquinolones),” says the WHO report.

It also shows rates in national testing coverage, AMR trends since 2017, and data on antimicrobial consumption in humans in 27 countries.

Within six years, the surveillance system achieved participation from 127 countries with 72% of the world’s population.

Data from 87 countries

The report includes data reported by 87 countries in 2020.

It shows high levels (above 50%) of resistance were reported in bacteria frequently causing hospital bloodstream infections, such as Klebsiella pneumonia and Acinetobacter spp.

Such life-threatening infections require treatment with last-resort antibiotics, such as carbapenems.

“However, 8% of bloodstream infections caused by Klebsiella pneumonia were reported as resistant to carbapenems, increasing the risk of death due to unmanageable infections,” says the report.

Although most resistance trends have remained stable over the past four years, bloodstream infections due to resistant Escherichia coli and Salmonella spp. and resistant gonorrhea infections increased by at least 15% compared to rates in 2017.

WHO says more research is needed to identify the reasons behind the observed AMR increase and to what extent it is related to increased hospitalizations and antibiotic treatments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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