WHO issues warning of 'post-antibiotic era'

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World Health Organization officials this week warned that workhorse medications we rely on to keep viruses, bacteria and other pathogens in check are in danger of becoming obsolete.

In every region of the globe, health officials have witnessed "very high rates of resistance" to antimicrobial drugs designed to fight bugs such as Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Klebsiella pneumoniae, according to a new report. These bugs cause pneumonia and infections in the bloodstream, in open wounds and in the urinary tract.

All six of the WHO's regions include at least one nation in which at least half of the strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae are resistant to penicillin and at least half of K. pneumoniae strains are resistant to cephalosporin drugs, the report says.

In addition, five of the six WHO regions include at least one country where at least half of the strains of S. aureus are resistant to methicillin. Also, five of the six regions have at least one country where half of the E. coli strains are now drug-resistant, according to the report.

In many parts of the world, antimicrobial resistance "has reached alarming levels," the report says.

If the international community fails to cooperate, "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," said Keiji Fukuda, the WHO's assistant director-general for health security.

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