The World Health Organization says all twelve bacteria on the list are highly resistant to antibiotics and nearly untreatable.
By Avery Thompson
In case you didn’t have enough possible apocalypse scenarios to worry about, here’s a new one—drug-resistant bacteria. While the bulk of the 20th century enjoyed dozens of antibiotics that could kill even the hardiest bacteria, less than a quarter of the way into the next century and we’re already running out of effective treatments.
The primary issue is that the more we use antibiotics, the less effective it becomes. Bacteria are quick to adapt, and antibiotic resistance can develop quickly and spread throughout a population. Antibiotics are difficult to develop and new ones don’t exactly grow on trees, so we’re rapidly approaching a situation where there are bacteria we don’t have antibiotics for. This is, to put it mildly, not good.
To highlight this trend, and coordinate a response for dealing with it, the World Health Organisation just released a list of the twelve most crucial antibiotics for researchers to focus on. The list is divided into three categories and ranked in order of urgency. The WHO hopes that this list will help guide the response of the scientific community going forward.
The three types of bacteria in the ‘critical’ category, the most severe category in the WHO’s list, all have one thing in common: resistance to carbapenems, a group of ‘last resort’ antibiotics usually used when an infection has proven resistant to all other forms of antibiotics. Some bacteria have recently developed a resistance even to carbapenems, and there is little else doctors can do once someone is exposed to them.
The bacteria on the WHO’s list consist mostly of the ESKAPE pathogens, which are commonly found in hospitals and frequently exhibit antibiotic resistance. The WHO’s list also contains other antibiotic-resistant species that could pose a danger if not carefully monitored, but these are not carbapenem-resistant yet.
While the bacteria on the WHO list are dangerous, and it’s reasonable to be worried about them, the creation of the list shows the scientific and medical community is optimistic that these pathogens can be fought. Many scientists are already hard at work finding new ways to kill dangerous bacteria, from discovering new antibiotics to harnessing the power of viruses or nanoparticles. For now, this fight is far from over and an antibiotic apocalypse is likely not happening anytime soon.
WHO priority pathogens list for R&D of new antibiotics
Priority 1: CRITICAL
Acinetobacter baumannii, carbapenem-resistant
Pseudomonas aeruginosa, carbapenem-resistant
Enterobacteriaceae, carbapenem-resistant, ESBL-producing
Priority 2: HIGH
Enterococcus faecium, vancomycin-resistant
Staphylococcus aureus, methicillin-resistant, vancomycin-intermediate and resistant
Helicobacter pylori, clarithromycin-resistant
Campylobacter spp., fluoroquinolone-resistant
Neisseria gonorrhoeae, cephalosporin-resistant, fluoroquinolone-resistant
Priority 3: MEDIUM
Streptococcus pneumoniae, penicillin-non-susceptible
Haemophilus influenzae, ampicillin-resistant
Shigella spp., fluoroquinolone-resistant
Source: The World Health Organization
This article was originally written for and published by Popular Mechanics USA.