World health report

Press release

Antibiotic resistance

Drug-resistant strains of microbes are having a deadly impact on the fight against tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, diarrhoea and pneumonia - major diseases which together killed more than 10 million people last year. Some bacteria are resistant to as many as 10 different drugs.

"Disastrously, this is happening at a time when too few new drugs are being developed to replace those that have lost their effectiveness. In the race for supremacy, microbes are sprinting ahead. The gap between their ability to mutate into drug-resistant strains and man's ability to counter them is widening fast", the report says.

Many of the most powerful antibiotics have been rendered impotent. The two most common bacteria which are the major cause of death in children through acute respiratory infections, particularly pneumonia, are becoming more and more resistant to drugs.

Antibiotic resistance in hospitals worldwide threatens to leave medical and public health workers virtually helpless in the prevention or treatment of many infections. Antibiotic resistant bacteria are responsible for up to 60% of hospital-acquired infections in the United States, for example. Resistance means that people with infections are ill for longer periods, and are at greater risk of dying, and that disease epidemics are prolonged.

"All bacteria possess an inherent flexibility that enables them, sooner or later, to evolve genes that render them resistant to any antimicrobial. The implications are awesome: drugs that cost tens of millions of dollars to produce, and take perhaps 10 years to reach the market, have only a limited life span in which they are effective," the report says. "As resistance spreads, that life span shrinks; as fewer new drugs appear, the gulf widens between infection and control."

A major cause of the antibiotic resistance crisis is the uncontrolled and inappropriate use of antibiotics globally. They are used by too many people to treat the wrong kind of infections at the wrong dosage and for the wrong period of time.

Antibiotics and other antimicrobial agents are used in enormous amounts worldwide for the production of animal meat for human consumption. Some 170 billion tons of animal meat is produced every year. Drug resistant bacteria and other microbes are passed through the food chain to the consumer, where they may cause disease, or transfer the resistance to human pathogens.