For the first time ever, the World Health Organization has released a list of “priority pathogens,” based on their antibiotic resistance, that pose the greatest threat to human health.
The list includes 12 families of bacteria with rapidly growing antibiotic resistance.
"Antibiotic resistance is growing, and we are fast running out of treatment options,” said Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO's Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation, in a press release Monday. “If we leave it to market forces alone, the new antibiotics we most urgently need are not going to be developed in time.”
Scientists, doctors, and Bill Gates, have warned of the dangers that stem from overprescription and overuse of antibacterial treatments, and the worldwide complacency in developing new treatments. Bacteria are adapting to current treatments faster than the world is developing new options and this bodes badly for the future.
In December, Gates spoke on the potential consequences of a pandemic, which he thinks could happen in the next decade. He also added that it’s essential for wealthier countries to take the lead on developing new antibiotics. Now, WHO is agreeing and giving medical researchers their top recommendations for research and development.
Here are top three critical bacterias the WHO warns will be the deadliest if we don’t develop new antibiotic treatments. The other nine bacteria families are listed as high and medium priority.
The reason critical bacteria, like Acinetobacter, are high-priority is they are common in vulnerable populations of people in nursing homes and hospitals, and are often seen in patients on ventilators, according to WHO. This category of bacteria is responsible for hospital-related pneumonia, infections in burn victims, and infections in the bloodstream with mortality rates between 32% to 52%.
Most species of bacteria in this category are resistant to penicillin, the first discovered antibiotic. They are also less effectively treated by five other common antibiotics.
E. coli belongs to this grouping, a large contributor to the 125,000 children globally who die each year from diseases passed on by food contaminated with E coli, and other bacteria. Many of these have grown resistant to two of the best antibiotics available, according to WHO. Not all forms of this category are listed as critical.
Other bacteria families listed as high and medium priorities are those that include bacteria like salmonella, diseases like gonorrhea, and skin infections like MRSA, which causes 11,000 deaths in the US.
Criteria for the survey depended on a range of factors such as death rates, length of hospital stay, how often they resist antibiotic treatment, and rate of spread among animals.
Many of these bacteria are also able to pass on genetic material when replicating, allowing more bacteria to become resistant to current antibiotics. This furthers the spread of antibiotic-resistance among a bacterial disease.
Fortunately, the global health organization has released this list in order to advance research and development for new antibiotics powerful enough to stop the spread of resistance.
“New antibiotics targeting this priority list of pathogens will help to reduce deaths due to resistant infections around the world," said Evelina Tacconelli, who contributed to developing the list.
Disclosure: Bill Gates is the co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a funding partner of Global Citizen.
Editor's note: This piece has been updated to include a disclosure that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a funding partner of Global Citizen. We regret the oversight.