The world is headed for a post-antibiotic era

Antibiotic resistance is a serious threat to public health with cases being reported from every region of the world and having the potential to affect anyone, the World Health Organisation has said.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), as antibiotic resistance is also known as, is a technical term that means resistance to medicines used against microorganisms, thereby making the drugs ineffective.

In India, the easy availability and higher consumption of antibiotics have contributed to the inappropriate use of the drugs, creating a situation where resistant microorganisms are becoming more common. The infectious-disease burden in India is among the highest in the world and the inappropriate and irrational use of antimicrobial agents against these diseases has led to an increase in development of antimicrobial resistance.

In 2011, there were an estimated 6.3 lakh cases of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) among the world’s 12 million cases of TB. The WHO report, “Antimicrobial Resistance: Global Report on Surveillance,” notes resistance to antibiotics used as a last resort to treat life-threatening infections caused by a common intestinal bacteria — K. pneumonia — has spread to all regions of the world. It is a major cause of hospital-acquired infections such as pneumonia and bloodstream infections in newborns and intensive-care unit patients. In some countries, because of antimicrobial resistance, antibiotics would not be effective for more than half of people treated for K. pneumonia infection.

“Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era in which common infections and minor injuries, which have been treatable for decades, would kill once again,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General for Health Security, WHO.

Resistance is occurring across many infectious agents but the WHO report focuses on antibiotic resistance in nine different bacteria responsible for common, serious diseases such as bloodstream infections (sepsis), diarrhoea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhoea. The results are cause for high concern, documenting resistance to antibiotics, especially “last resort” antibiotics, in all regions of the world. Resistance to one of the most widely used antibiotics for the treatment of urinary tract infections caused by E. coli – fluoroquinolones – is widespread.

Treatment failure to the last-resort treatment for gonorrhea — third generation cephalosporins — has been confirmed in Austria, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Norway, South Africa, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom. More than 1 million people are infected with gonorrhoea around the world every day.