The threat of antibiotic resistance is no longer a prediction of the future.

It is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country, the World Health Organisation has said, in its first global report on antibiotic resistance.

“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,” says WHO’s Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General for Health Security.

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria adapts in a manner that renders antibiotics ineffective on humans who need them to treat infections.

“Effective antibiotics have been one of the pillars allowing us to live longer, live healthier, and benefit from modern medicine. 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,” a WHO note quoting Fukuda said.

The report focuses on antibiotic resistance in nine different bacteria responsible for common, serious diseases such as bloodstream infections (sepsis), diarrhoea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhoea.

Wide resistance The report records that resistance to carbapenem antibiotics, used as a last-resort treatment of life-threatening infections caused by a common intestinal bacteria, has spread to all regions of the world.

K pneumoniae is a major cause of hospital-acquired infections such as pneumonia, bloodstream infections, infections in newborns and intensive-care unit patients. In some countries, because of resistance, carbapenem antibiotics would not work in more than half of people treated for these infections, the note said.

It also records resistance to widely used antibiotics for the treatment of urinary tract infections caused by E coli – fluoroquinolones. “In the 1980s, when these drugs were first introduced, resistance was virtually zero. Today, there are countries in many parts of the world where this treatment is now ineffective in more than half of patients.”

Treatment failure to the last resort of treatment for gonorrhoea – third generation cephalosporins – has been confirmed in Austria, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Norway, South Africa, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom, the note said. More than a million people are infected with gonorrhoea globally, every day.

Long periods of sickness Antibiotic resistance causes people to be sick for longer and increases the risk of death, the note said. “For example, people with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) are 64 per cent more likely to die than people with a non-resistant form of the infection. Resistance also increases the cost of health care with lengthier stays in hospital and more intensive care required.”

Data also reveal that antibiotic resistance is a burgeoning problem in WHO’s South-East Asia Region, home to a quarter of the world's population, it said.