12 superbugs that pose the greatest danger to human health

The World Health Organization has released a list of 12 antibiotic-resistant superbugs that urgently need new treatment options.

The World Health Organization has released a list of 12 antibiotic-resistant superbugs that pose the greatest danger to human health.

The purpose of the list of “priority pathogens," according to WHO, is to promote continued research and development of drugs that can be used to treat patients with these resistant infections.

The agency has divided the list according to the urgent need for new antibiotics. The bacteria considered the most critical pose a particular threat to hospitalized patients who may require blood catheters or ventilators. These bacteria, which can cause severe and deadly infections, such as bloodstream infections and pneumonia, are also resistant to drugs designed as a last line of defense for patients.

"This list is a new tool to ensure R&D responds to urgent public health needs," Marie-Paule Kieny, Ph.D., assistant director-general for health systems and innovation at the WHO, said in an announcement. "Antibiotic resistance is growing, and we are fast running out of treatment options. If we leave it to market forces alone, the new antibiotics we most urgently need are not going to be developed in time."

Three bacteria resistant to carbapenem, an antibiotic that often treats bacteria that are resistant to other drugs, are listed as critical. Six bacteria are ranked as high-priority and the final three are listed as medium-priority. Bacteria listed as high- or medium-priority are increasingly becoming resistant to different antibiotics and are producing hard-to-treat strains of common conditions, such as gonorrhea and salmonella.

One of the three critical bacteria, carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, resulted in the death of a Nevada woman last year, and estimates suggest the infection may be more widespread than previously thought.

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Global health experts have increasingly warned that superbugs are poised to be a significant threat to patient health. In the next decades, drug-resistant infections could kill more people than cancer. Providers can do their part by focusing on antibiotic stewardship. National healthcare organizations, including the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, have offered guidelines.

Here is the complete list compiled by WHO:

Priority 1: CRITICAL

  • Acinetobacter baumannii, carbapenem-resistant
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa, carbapenem-resistant
  • Enterobacteriaceae, carbapenem-resistant, ESBL-producing

Priority 2: HIGH

  • Enterococcus faecium, vancomycin-resistant
  • Staphylococcus aureus, methicillin-resistant, vancomycin-intermediate and resistant
  • Helicobacter pylori, clarithromycin-resistant
  • Campylobacter spp., fluoroquinolone-resistant
  • Salmonellae, fluoroquinolone-resistant
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae, cephalosporin-resistant, fluoroquinolone-resistant

Priority 3: MEDIUM

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae, penicillin-non-susceptible
  • Haemophilus influenzae, ampicillin-resistant
  • Shigella spp., fluoroquinolone-resistant