New research from the University of Sydney has found antibiotic resistance is rising around the world, so much so that drugs used to treat common infections in children and babies are no longer effective.
The study found many common antibiotics recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) now had less than 50% efficacy in treating infections such as pneumonia, sepsis (blood infections) and meningitis in children.
The worst-affected regions are Southeast Asia and the Pacific. In Indonesia and the Philippines, thousands of unnecessary deaths in children occur each year as a result of antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance can occur when bacteria evolve mechanisms that protect them against antibiotics, rendering drugs as no longer effective.
Fungi can also evolve to become antifungal resistant, and viruses can evolve to be antiviral resistant. Antimicrobial resistance doesn’t just happen within the host – meaning, it’s not just if a person takes too many antimicrobial medicines – it happens collectively. The microbe as it exists around the world develops resistance, regardless of who’s being treated.
But such resistance is more problematic for children than adults, as new drugs are less likely to be trialled on and made available to children.
The WHO has declared antimicrobial resistance as one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity.
An estimated three million cases of sepsis occur in newborns globally each year. Up to 570,000 are fatal. Many of these are due to lack of effective antibiotics to treat resistant bacteria.
The research urged for global antibiotic guidelines to be updated, to keep up with rapidly growing rates of antimicrobial resistance. The most recent guideline from WHO was published in 2013.
The study’s lead researcher, Dr Phoebe Williams, from the University’s School of Public Health and Sydney Infectious Diseases Institute, said the study should be a wake-up call for Australia and the world.
“We are not immune to this problem – the burden of antimicrobial resistance is on our doorstep,” she said.
“Antibiotic resistance is rising more rapidly than we realise. We urgently need new solutions to stop invasive multidrug-resistant infections and the needless deaths of thousands of children each year.”
Aleksandra Bliszczyk is the Deputy Editor of VICE Australia. Follow her on Instagram.
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