News / Health

WHO Sounds Alarm on Drug Resistant Germs

Carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria
Carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria
Vidushi Sinha

As the World Health Organization prepares to mark World Health Day April 7, the U.N. agency is urging stepped-up international efforts to address the problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which are posing increasingly serious public health threats, especially in hospitals.  Here is our first of two reports.

"The scary part about these cases are it's a bacteria that is pretty common but develops resistance to most of the antibiotics we have," said Dr. Andrew Fishmann. "These are usually in patients who had previously been in a nursing home or other hospitals or have seen a course of antibiotics or several courses of antibiotics and as a result the bacteria becomes resistant to most of the antibiotics we use.''

Doctor Andrew Fishmann is referring to a potent bacterium called carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae -  CRKP for short - that infected over 350 mostly elderly patients in California between June and December of 2010.  Forty percent of these patients died within a month of becoming infected.

The germ in this case is resistant not only to the antibiotic carbapenem but to all other available antimicrobial drugs.

This strain of superbug has been reported in 35 states in the United States, but it's also caused infections in Argentina and Brazil, 15 of them fatal.   

And it's just one of a growing number of dangerous bacteria that are proving resistant to mankind's arsenal of antibiotic drugs.  The effectiveness of that arsenal, medical experts say, is dwindling fast because of widespread use and misuse of antibiotics.

"Antimicrobial resistance is increasing worldwide not only for specific antibiotics but for every antibiotic in every disease and not only for humans but also for antibiotics used in animals," said Dr. Marcos Espinal. "When you talk about TB, malaria, HIV but also diseases like pneumonia, diarrheal diseases - there is antimicrobial resistance all across the spectrum."

Dr. Marcos Espinal, who manages health surveillance, disease prevention and control at WHO, is heading up a campaign to educate patients, practitioners, and the general public about the spread of antimicrobial resistance in the Americas.

Underscoring  the seriousness of the problem - not just in the Americas but around the globe - the World Health Organization has made anti-microbial resistance the theme of this year's World Health Day observance on April 7.   The W.H.O. wants the international community to step up efforts to identify and combat these dangerous new superbugs.

The message is alarming.  Even the most powerful antibiotics may fail against these superbug strains.

Hospitals are the most common breeding grounds of superbugs. But they can spread quickly within community settings as well.

Dr. Espinal says many a times infections go undetected because more sophisticated techniques are needed to detect these potentially deadly superbugs.

"Sometimes they are happening and we are not detecting them," he said. "There is always the reporting issue is very common in resource limited countries. They don’t have all the necessary tools and types of laboratories required to do that."

The Klabsiella pneumonia bacteria, like other superbugs, are highly contagious.  They can be spread from an infected patient to other people by a simple touch, or with a cough or sneeze.  And they can quickly bring down  an infected person's immune system - allowing a host of other germs to invade the body.

"When a person is infected or develops antimicrobial resistance to a specific antibiotic - an umbrella of situations could happen," said Espinal. "The person can have the most negative outcome could die if not treated in time or the person could struggle by being sick and by spreading the disease for a long time like somebody with TB."

In today's interconnected world, with millions of travelers jetting every day to all corners of the globe, bacteria can be spread faster than ever.  Public health experts are calling for stricter disease surveillance, better patient monitoring systems, and the establishment of special committees in hospitals to enforce more rigorous hygiene and sanitation standards.

Doctors advise that frequent hand-washing, patient isolation rooms and more selective use of antibiotics can help stop the spread of superbugs.

Experts agree that the world needs a new class of antibiotics to beat the superbugs down. But they warn that doctors and patients must learn to use these new weapons more carefully.

"Remember: developing new antibiotics will also require the development of new microbiological techniques to detect microbial resistance to those new antibiotics," said Espinal. "It’s a multipurpose initiative."

Dr. Espinal says that a new line of antibiotics will help cure the infected patients but without a change of medical practices, it will not solve the problem of antimicrobial resistance.

WHO calls the growing incidence of superbug infections a major burden on society that's causing death, suffering, disability, and higher health care costs - a major challenge the medical community must face without delay.  

[In Part 2 of our report on the menace of drug-resistant bacteria, we look at the intensifying efforts by medical researchers to develop new and more effective antibiotics.]

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid