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Drug-Resistant Superbugs Are a Threat to Public Health, Says WHO

Antibiotics aren’t really working, and it’s a problem. (Photo: Gallery Stock)

The World Health Organization (WHO) is warning about the dangers of antimicrobial resistance, calling it an “increasingly serious threat to global public health.”

“Without effective antibiotics, the success of major surgery and cancer chemotherapy would be compromised,” WHO chillingly warns.

WHO made the declaration Wednesday, prompting the United Nations General Assembly to vote to take a “broad coordinated approach” to tackle the issue. “This is only the fourth time a health issue has been taken up by the U.N. General Assembly (the others were for HIV, noncommunicable diseases, and Ebola),“ the U.N. said in a statement.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than two million people are infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 people die annually due to these infections.

Experts have been warning about the threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria for years. In 2015, the Obama administration released a comprehensive plan to tackle the issue, but it continues to remain a growing health threat to Americans.

Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious-disease specialist at Cleveland Clinic Akron General Hospital in Ohio, tells Yahoo Beauty that the declarations are “long overdue.” “The spread of antibiotic resistance is a threat that some people have said is on par with global warming,” he says.

Watkins says antibiotic resistance is such an issue because the drugs are crucial to what doctors are able to do. “If they don’t work, then other things like safe organ transplants, C-sections, and abdominal surgeries are not going to be possible,” he says. “We would essentially be going back in time to the 1930s, when mortality was very high and life expectancy for most people was about 40.”

Board-certified infectious disease specialist Amesh A. Adalja, MD, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, agrees. “We’ve seen alarming rates of drug resistant bacteria, some of which have become totally resistant,” he says. “If this trend continues, we’ll return to a pre-penicillin era, and people will start to die from what were once treatable infections.”

Certain illnesses are already showing more superbug strains than others. Watkins cites gonorrhea, tuberculosis, and even urinary tract infections among them. “We’re already seeing urinary tract infections that are no longer susceptible to the first line drugs that we use,” he says.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to know in advance if you’ve contracted an antibiotic resistant infection. Rob Abramovitch, an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Michigan State University, tells Yahoo Beauty that you may only know after standard medications don’t work and your doctor confirms it with lab testing.

Experts say the solution to the problem involves effort from everyone. Doctors need to stop bowing to pressure from patients to prescribe antibiotics for illnesses that they won’t help, like the flu or a common cold, Watkins says. Patients also need to stop making these demands and writing negative online reviews of doctors who won’t prescribe unnecessary antibiotics, Adalja says.

On a larger level, drug companies also need to create new antibiotics to give doctors more treatment options, and the agricultural industry needs to stop overusing antibiotics to promote animal growth, Watkins says.

Antibiotic resistance is a serious problem, but Abramovitch says it’s fixable. “With a concerted effort to limit the spread of drug-resistant infections and to develop new antibiotics, I am hopeful we will keep the upper hand,” he says. “However, microbes will evolve resistance to new drugs, so we can’t let our guard down.”

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