The report Tackling drug-resistant infections globally: Final report and recommendations indicates that 40 million people use antibiotics every year in the United States alone, while only 13 million people actually need them. Bacteria that become resistant to antibiotics are not weakened or eradicated when patients are treated with antibiotics. The bacteria continue to grow and multiply, and can cause or worsen diseases. Bacteria that are resistant to several types of antibiotics are called “multi-resistant” or “superbugs”, and can be extremely dangerous. The prevalence of these resistant bacteria means that infections that are easy to treat today can become dangerous again in the future.

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By using rapid diagnostic techniques, which are quick methods to determine whether a patient has a bacterial infection, and if so, the type of bacteria present, doctors can quickly decide whether a patient’s condition requires antibiotics, and which specific medicine is needed. This way, they can optimize the treatment of infection and avoid the overuse of antibiotics that may result in resistant bacteria.

How do these bacteria infect and spread?

Antibiotic resistance spreads through infection to resistant bacteria from human to human, from bacteria to bacteria, or in contact with the environments. Resistant bacteria live in normal bacterial flora, for instance, in the bowels. People who are infected but who do not become ill are called carriers. Carriers seldom become ill themselves, but can infect others who have weaker immune systems. Nevertheless, carriers can experience serious infections later, for example during cancer treatment or when their develop immune systems are weakened for other reasons. In Norway, bacteria that are resistant to one or more antibiotics are found in 1 out of 10 healthy people.

Increased leisure and medical tourism and free choice of hospitals have all contributed to an increased spread of bacteria than before.

WHO report confirms: The world is running out of antibiotics

WHO shows a serious lack of new antibiotics under development to combat the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance. Most of the drugs currently in the clinical pipeline are modifications of existing classes of antibiotics and are only short-term solutions. There are also very few oral antibiotics in the pipeline, yet these are essential formulations for treating infections outside hospitals or in resource-limited settings.

Pharmaceutical companies and researchers must urgently focus on new antibiotics against certain types of extremely serious infections that can kill patients in a matter of days because we have no line of defence.

New treatments alone, however, will not be sufficient to combat the threat of antimicrobial resistance. WHO works with countries and partners to improve infection prevention and control and to foster appropriate use of existing and future antibiotics. WHO is also developing guidance for the responsible use of antibiotics in the human, animal and agricultural sectors.

Why are there no new medicines?

It takes a long time to develop new medicines. Therefore, we must use the medicines we have more carefully. This is important if we want to be able to treat infections in the future until new and adequate medicines are available. New types of antibiotics would only be used when nothing else works. This would involve fewer sales of new antibiotics, and that means less profit for the pharmaceutical industry.