WHO reveals list of antibiotic-resistant bacteria posing the greatest threat to human health

09 March 2017 Antimicrobial resistance

The World Health Organization (WHO) published a list of 12 families of bacteria for which new antibiotics are urgently needed, calling on hospital infection-control experts and pharmaceutical researchers to focus on these “priority pathogens”.

Global resistance of antimicrobial medicines has caused a need for research and development of new antibiotics. Every year, approximately 700,000 people die worldwide due to drug-resistant infections and, if no action is taken, it is estimated that such infections will kill 10 million people a year by 2050.[1]

"New antibiotics targeting this priority list of pathogens will help to reduce deaths due to resistant infections around the world. [...] Waiting any longer will cause further public health problems and dramatically impact on patient care."
Prof. Evelina Tacconelli, Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Tübingen

What's on the list?

The WHO list prioritizes a dozen bacteria that are resistant to multiple antibiotics and have built-in abilities to find new ways to resist treatment, passing along genetic material for other bacteria to do the same. Divided into three categories, bacteria are listed according to the urgency of need for new antibiotics: critical, high and medium priority.

The critical group includes multidrug resistant bacteria threatening hospitals, nursing homes, and patients whose care requires devices (such as ventilators and blood catheters). These bacteria can cause severe and often deadly infections, such as bloodstream infections and pneumonia. Other increasingly drug-resistant bacteria, listed in the high and medium priority groups, cause more common diseases such as gonorrhoea and food poisoning caused by salmonella.

"This list is a new tool to ensure R&D [research and development] responds to urgent public health needs. [...] Antibiotic resistance is growing, and we are fast running out of treatment options. If we leave it to market forces alone, the new antibiotics we most urgently need are not going to be developed in time."
Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation

What can dentists do?

There is reason for concern regarding antibiotic resistance in the dental practice. Dentists are among the major prescribers of antibiotics, estimated at 7–11% of all antibiotic prescriptions, depending on the country. The antibiotics prescribed most commonly by dentists are amoxicillin, penicillin and metronidazole, and there is evidence suggesting that inappropriate prescribing by dental practitioners may be contributing to the development of antibiotic resistance.[2] Therefore, governments should consult with national dental associations when developing guidelines and prescribing policies on antibiotic use for dental practitioners as crucial steps to helping fight this global health crisis.

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[1] WHO names 12 bacteria that pose the greatest threat to human health. The Guardian, 2017 (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/feb/27/world-health-organisation-12-antibiotic-resistant-bacteria-threat-human-health, accessed 7 March 2017).

[2] Sweeney LC et al. Antibiotic resistance in general dental practice—a cause for concern? J of Antimicrob Chemother 2005 56(5):799–802 (https://academic.oup.com/jac/article/53/4/567/782420/Antibiotic-resistance-in-general-dental-practice-a, accessed 7 March 2017).