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Superbugs turning treatable diseases into killers: WHO

GENEVA--The rise of superbugs, stoked by misuse of antibiotics and poor hospital hygiene, is enabling long-treatable diseases to once again become killers, the World Health Organization warned on Wednesday.

In a hard-hitting study of antimicrobial resistance — when bacteria adapt so that existing drugs no longer curb them — the U.N. health agency said the problem was a global emergency.

“Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, 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,” warned Keiji Fukuda, the WHO's assistant director-general for health security.

“Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics, the world will lose more and more of these global public health goods and the implications will be devastating,” he said.

The unprecedented report gathered data from 114 countries, and focused on seven different bacteria responsible for common, serious diseases such as diarrhea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhea.

Even so-called “last resort” antibiotics are losing their ability to fight such bacteria, with half of the patients showing resistance in some countries, the report said.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said the scale of the crisis was frightening clear on the ground.

“We see horrendous rates of antibiotic resistance wherever we look in our field operations,” said Jennifer Cohn, an MSF medical director.

Specter of E.coli, Gonorrhoea

Among the report's key findings were the global spread of resistance to carbapenem antibiotics — the last resort treatment for life-threatening infections caused by the common intestinal bacteria Klebsiella pneumoniae.

Known as K. pneumoniae, it is a major cause of hospital-acquired infections such as pneumonia and sepsis, often hitting newborns and intensive-care patients.

Resistance to one of the most widely used antibacterial medicines for the treatment of urinary tract infections caused by E.coli — fluoroquinolones, is also widespread.

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