Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria mutate and adapt to become resistant to the antibiotics used to treat the infections they cause. Over-use and misuse of antibiotics exacerbate the development of drug resistant bacteria, often called superbugs. Superbug infections – including multi-drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis, typhoid and gonorrhoea – kill hundreds of thousands of people a year, and the trend is growing.
The WHO surveyed 10,000 people across 12 countries and found many worrying misconceptions. Three quarters of respondents think antibiotic resistance means the body is resistant to the drugs, for example, whereas in fact it is the bacteria themselves that become resistant to antibiotics and their spread causes hard-to-treat infections. Some 66 percent believe individuals are not at risk of a drug-resistant infection if they personally take their antibiotics as prescribed.
And nearly half of those surveyed think drug resistance is only a problem in people who take antibiotics often. In fact, anyone, anywhere, of any age, can get a superbug infection.
According to a report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a particularly dangerous superbug, dubbed the “phantom menace” by scientists, is on the rise. This superbug’s strains belong to the family of bacteria known as CRE (carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae), which are difficult to treat because they are often resistant to most antibiotics.
They are often deadly, too, in some instances killing up to 50 percent of patients who become infected. CRE are gram-negative bacteria that are nearly resistant to the carbapenem class of antibiotics, considered the “drug of last resort” for such infections. No new drugs for the bacteria are in development and the bacteria’s rapid adaptation to new drugs makes investment in their development unprofitable, as the new drug would quickly become useless.