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13:41 PM

WHO Lists 12 Bacteria Posing Greatest Threat To Human Health

Infectious Diseases doctor on why antibiotic resistance is growing

The World Health Organization (WHO) released its list of antibiotic-resistant “priority pathogens” – a catalogue of 12 bacterial species that pose the greatest threat to human health.

WHO says the list is an effort to “guide and promote research and development of new antibiotics.”

Antibiotic resistance is growing, according to WHO, which means “we are fast running out of treatment options.”

Mary Suzanne Whitworth, M.D., medical director of Infectious Disease at Cook Children’s, says the best way both the medical community and parents can prevent the spread of these dangerous bacteria is the judicious use of antibiotics.

Some infections in kids require antibiotics for improvement. Some strep throat, urinary tract infections and skin infections will need antibiotics to treat and prevent worsening of the symptoms.

Ear infections don’t always need antibiotics. In older children with less severe disease, a period of waiting can allow the infection to go away without treatment.

Many infections in children are caused by viruses. Colds and sore throats that aren’t strep and many other infections in children simply need a little time and TLC.

“Most viral upper respiratory tract infections start with clear runny nose, maybe fever, and maybe a cough. After a few days the nose drainage is green and then after a few more days it goes away on its own. Antibiotics are not needed for these viral illnesses. The child might have bacterial sinusitis and need antibiotics if the green runny nose lasts for over 7 to 10 or if symptoms worsen after a few days.”

Children can have severe, even life threatening, allergic reactions (even if they have taken that antibiotic before and been fine). Because these are rare, they are not a reason to avoid antibiotics when necessary but they are a reason to use caution when antibiotics are not the right treatment in the first place.

Antibiotics can also cause other side effects, most commonly diarrhea. This diarrhea can last weeks and can be quite severe. If the diarrhea is severe (especially if blood or mucous is present) your doctor might have to consider testing for C. difficile which is a potentially serious infection that can be the result of antibiotic use.

Physicians say they are seeing an increase in the number of infections caused by bacteria that do not respond to the antibiotics we have traditionally used for them.

“This requires us to use stronger antibiotics which can often cause more side effects,” said Justin Smith, M.D., a pediatrician at Cook Children’s. “You can see why people are concerned if we continue along the same path but fast-forward 25 or 50 years. What types of bacteria would emerge? This is why we must use extreme caution.”

Dr. Whitworth adds, “Antibiotics are important and often life-saving. But each time they are used there needs to be a conscious decision made about exactly why they are indicated, what the best choice is for patient compliance, and what the risks and benefits are. They should not be used just because they are expected or requested.”

WHO priority pathogens list for R&D of new antibiotics



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