The World Health Organisation (WHO) has just published a list of twelve types of bacteria which pose the greatest threat to human health.
In an accompanying news release, WHO stated that the list was created in order to promote the research and development of new antibiotics required to fight the bacteria.
In other words, the list was created to encourage the creation of new remedies, rather than to scare the crap out of people.
However, regardless of what WHO says, it is still a pretty scary list.
The list is divided into three categories (critical, high and medium), which prioritise the need to find antibiotics for each kind of superbug.
The superbugs are measured according to mortality rates, the level of resistance, their prevalence in communities and the demands they place on healthcare systems.
Included in the first “critical” group is carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE). And if you think that sounds scary, wait till you hear its nickname.
When CRE first appeared in 2013, The Washington Post reported that U.S health officials had given it the name “nightmare bacteria”.
CRE is resistant to nearly all antibiotics and kills up to half the patients that get infected. In addition, the bacteria may be untreatable since it can transfer resistance to other bacteria within its family. According to The Post, almost all CRE infections occur in patients already in critical condition at hospitals or nursing homes. However, the germs are able to spread from person to person within the facility.
In the second and third groups, you will find other more common diseases such as gonorrhoea and food poisoning caused by salmonella. In recent years, the bacteria that cause these illnesses have become increasingly resistant to antibiotics.
A primary reason resistance develops is the inappropriate use of antibiotic medicines by doctors. In the United States for example, it was recently found that nearly a third of antibiotics are prescribed unnecessarily.
Professor Evelina Tacconelli, a major contributor to the Top 12 list, said:
New antibiotics targeting this priority list of pathogens will help to reduce deaths due to resistant infections around the world. Waiting any longer will cause further public health problems and dramatically impact on patient care.
The list comes on the heels of a summit that was held at the United Nations (UN) in New York last September.
It was only the fourth time that the UN had addressed a health crisis in a General Assembly. Prior to that, there were summits for HIV/AIDS (2001), chronic illnesses (2011) and Ebola (2014).
As with other pressing issues, such as global warming, the time to act is now.
According to WHO, drug-resistant bacteria kills an estimated 700,000 people a year. However, if left unchecked, CNN estimates that the number could be as high as 10 million annually by 2050.
Luckily, there are some Australian scientists kicking goals in this area. This month, the ABC reported that researchers at the University of Western Australia’s School of Molecular Sciences had discovered the structure of a protein responsible for drug-resistant bacteria.
The discovery is considered an important breakthrough because it will allow the development of drugs that prevent superbugs from using a “masking function” which effectively hides them from medication.
If anyone has the guts and determination to take out these superbugs, it’s us Aussies.