A Terrifying 'Post-Antibiotic' Era Is Coming, Says WHO — And It Could Be Worse Than The AIDS Epidemic

The World Health Organization delivered a scary warning Wednesday, stating that the crisis of antibiotic-resistant bacteria looks to be a bigger problem than AIDS: Many common maladies are rapidly becoming invulnerable to standard antibiotics. The price of this bacterial adaptation — which doctors have warned of for years, in the midst of excessive use of antibiotics for relatively minor conditions — could be severe and far-reaching. Unless creating new antibiotic strains is prioritized, WHO warns, we could move into an era in which many once-conquered diseases start taking lives again

The WHO's chilling warnings aren't new, but their call-to-arms is pretty serious and dire. Their report into the matter examined the effects of common antibiotics on a range of common-yet-major bacterial infections, including gonorrhea, sepsis, pneumonia, and diarrhea. They reached the unwelcome conclusion that antibiotic resistance is a global phenomenon, and it's getting worse.

Last year, the Center for Disease Control released a report which shone some light on the problem, at least within the United States. The findings were glaring — more than two million people per year are infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, at least 23,000 of whom die.

One major culprit, the bacteria Clostridium difficile, which causes aggressive and life-threatening diarrhea, has developed resistance to the common drugs used for treatment. Gonorrhea, a sexually-transmitted infection which left untreated can lead to a host of grisly symptoms, including infertility in women, has also shown such resistance.

Perhaps most troublingly of all, one of the least-safe places with these new super-bacteria are hospitals. Huge sources for inadvertent infection to begin with, the macabre fear of growing ill and dying while under professional care is all the more real with the rise of adapted infections that defy standard forms of treatment.

According to Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Security, the stakes are dizzyingly high. From the press release:

Without urgent, coordinated action 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. 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.