Twelve “priority pathogens” are threatening to upend modern medicine, according to a new list released this week by the World Health Organization.
Antibiotic resistance has powered the germs to become killers, and pose a growing threat, according to the WHO.
The international organization released its rogues’ gallery of the dangerous bacteria in an effort to spur incentives programs and get more drugs in the research pipeline.
The three families that are a critical danger are: Acinetobacter baumannii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Enterobacteriaceae, all of which are resistant to carbapenem, an antibiotic which is considered a last line of defense to the most stubborn infections.
These germs are all deadly, and can be found intermittently in health hubs worldwide, said Marie-Paule Kieny, the WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation, in a Tuesday press conference.
“This is truly urgent. These bacteria are responsible for severe infections and high mortality rates, mostly in hospitalized patients, transplant recipients, those receiving chemotherapy, or patients in intensive care units,” said Kieny. “While these bacteria are not widespread and do not generally affect healthy individuals, the burden for patients and society is now alarming and new, effective therapies are imperative.”
High priority germs are: Enterococcus faecium, Staphylococcus aureus, Helicobacter pylori, Campylobacter species, Salmonellae species, and Neisseria gonorrhoeae, all of which have varying resistance to antibiotics like vancomycin, methicillin, fluororquinolone and other drugs.
The medium-danger germs are: Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, and Shigella species.
The lack of new antibiotics, and the evolution of the germs themselves over a number of decades, has prompted the classification, added Kieny.
“Until about 30 years ago, the world was seeing tens of new antibiotics being approved and coming to market but today, just when resistance to antibiotics is reaching alarming proportions, the pipeline is practically dry,” she said.
Some notable bacteria did not make the list. Tuberculosis was not included, since it is targeted by other dedicated international programs. Also left off were streptococcus A and B, and chlamydia, which have not shown enough resistance to be considered a widespread public health threat.
The WHO officials could not give estimates to antibiotic resistance death tolls, due to classification difficulties with causes of death.
The first “superbug” that had complete antibiotic resistance in the U.S. appeared in a 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman last April, according to military doctors. Federal health officials have estimated that antibiotic resistance accounts for an estimated 2 million illnesses and 20,000 deaths annually.
The World Bank has predicted that the creeping resistance of some germs has started a trend, which could cause global economic catastrophe by 2050.