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28 Feb 2017

The World Health Organisation has announced its list of antibiotic-resistant priority pathogens, giving details of 12 families of bacteria that have the potential to be the greatest ever threat to human health.

Already killing millions each year, the dozen superbugs are listed under three categories and prioritised by what the WHO considers is the urgency for new antibiotics.

Insisting that the list is not meant to scare people but rather to spark more research into the public health threat, the WHO says the burden for society is now “alarming” even if the pathogens are not widespread.

Most of the bugs are among the two dozen or so antibiotic-resistant microbes already listed by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention as being able to potentially cause catastrophic consequences if action is not taken quickly.

The WHO considers some of these superbugs as being responsible for already high mortality rates and severe infections – with intensive care hospital patients, transplant recipients and those undergoing chemotherapy most effected.

In the highest category group is carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, which is nicknamed the “nightmare bacteria” and kills up to 50 per cent of patients who have become infected.

In the US, an elderly woman died last year after contracting a CRE infection that proved resistant to all 26 antibiotics available in America.

The second and third tiers are the high and medium priority categories and include the bacteria that cause more common diseases and food poisoning.

They have dramatic health impacts, if not super high mortality rates associated with them.

Public health experts in the US have welcomed the list being published, saying it will spark are more urgent and determined need to address the problem.

The WHO list is:

Priority 1: Critical

1. Acinetobacter baumannii, carbapenem-resistant
2. Pseudomonas aeruginosa, carbapenem-resistant
3. Enterobacteriaceae, carbapenem-resistant, ESBL-producing

Priority 2: High

4. Enterococcus faecium, vancomycin-resistant
5. Staphylococcus aureus, methicillin-resistant, vancomycin-intermediate and resistant
6. Helicobacter pylori, clarithromycin-resistant
7. Campylobacter spp., fluoroquinolone-resistant
8. Salmonellae, fluoroquinolone-resistant
9. Neisseria gonorrhoeae, cephalosporin-resistant, fluoroquinolone-resistant

Priority 3: Medium

10. Streptococcus pneumoniae, penicillin-non-susceptible
11. Haemophilus influenzae, ampicillin-resistant
12. Shigella spp., fluoroquinolone-resistant

Chris Johnson

Published: 28 Feb 2017