The WHO (World Health Organization) has just come out with its “Dirty Dozen” list of the 12 most dangerous “superbugs” proliferating in the world today. The key element connecting each one of these superbugs? Their increasing resistance to all known antibiotics and treatments available to combat them.
The WHO (World Health Organization) has declared war on 12 “priority pathogens” that it considers to be among the most dangerous to human existence on Earth as we know it. Our primary weapon against deadly disease-causing bacteria is the humble antibiotic — and while there are several different antibiotics available of different degrees of potency, our front lines are increasingly running thin as the superbugs grow resistant to their effects.
The WHO has grouped these 12 pathogens into three main categories of severity: Critical, High Priority, and Medium. Don’t let the name of that last group fool you, though: even the superbugs found in the “Medium” category are potentially deadly to contract. The most famous member of the “Critical” group would be E. coli, a gut-based bacteria that runs rampant in health facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes, where it can potentially do the most damage (because of populations with already compromised immune systems and other infections).
The “High Priority” list just beneath the “Critical” group includes famous afflictions such as staph infections and gonorrhea. Although you might have heard of these diseases before and consider them to not be much of a big deal, they have begun to mutate over time to become resistant to our treatment options. Finally, the “Medium” list includes a pesky bug known as Haemophilus influenzae, a penicillin-resistant superbug that seems to be a particular problem in pediatric patients and can cause a whole array of problems.
The crux of the whole problem with these superbugs is not that we don’t know how to treat them. For years, we’ve been successfully helping patients with these and other similar disease-causing bacteria by prescribing antibiotics. Unfortunately, the health world has long known of a major problem — the superbugs are essentially evolving, and slowly becoming resistant or downright immune to the antibiotics we throw at them.
The antibiotic resistance is due to a variety of factors including antibiotic over-prescription, patients not completing their entire course of antibiotics once their symptoms go away (a huge mistake), and lack of immunization. One of the main issues that the WHO has identified is that a market-driven approach to scientific and medical research may not result in the next powerful antibiotic discovery quickly enough. Researchers note that it can take a decade or more to formulate a new, more powerful antibiotic option. And without adequate funding and a sense of urgency, by the time we have the next weapon against these superbugs, it may already be too late.
What can you do about all of this? Support legislation and private philanthropy that places a priority on antibiotic research. Make sure you and your family receive all necessary vaccinations. And please, always make sure you finish your entire antibiotic prescription, even once your symptoms feel better.