The World Health Organisation says that antibiotic resistance is going to have devastating implications and the global threat is "no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country".

The agency's first report on the issue, with data from 114 countries, notes that antibiotic resistance "is now a major threat to public health". It focuses on seven different bacteria responsible for common, serious diseases such as sepsis, diarrhoea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhoea, noting the rise in resistance to 'last resort' antibiotics.

The analysis makes for grim reading, noting that in some countries, because of resistance, carbapenem antibiotics would not work in more than half of people treated for life-threatening infections caused by a common intestinal bacteria, Klebsiella pneumoniae. Resistance to one of the most widely used antibacterials for urinary tract infections caused by E coli  – fluoroquinolones – "is very widespread [whereas] in the 1980s, when these drugs were first introduced, resistance was virtually zero".

Among other findings, the WHO states that treatment failure to the last resort for gonorrhoea – third-generation cephalosporins – has been confirmed in Austria, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Norway, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden and the UK. More than a million people are infected with gonorrhoea around the world every day.

Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director-general for health security, said that "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 can once again kill". He added that without "significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics…the implications will be devastating".

Similar response to AIDS needed

Commenting on the report, Laura Piddock, director of Antibiotic Action and professor of microbiology, at the University of Birmingham said, said the WHO report "adds to a long list of reports published by many in the last ten years about this crisis". She argued that "the world needs to respond as it did to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s" and called for ambitious moves such as "a fully-funded mandatory global surveillance programme" to document the size of the problem and funded public education to help minimise use.  

Prof Piddock concluded by saying that "these are just starting points...we still need a better understanding of all aspects of resistance as well as new discovery, research and development of new antibiotics”.