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Antibiotic Resistance Poses Worldwide Threat, WHO Says

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Contributing to the problem is the increasing use of antibiotics to promote growth in farm animals, the WHO report says. Another problem is the use of antibiotics to treat conditions for which the drugs were not intended. For example, in the Philippines, a certain tuberculosis drug is commonly used as sort of a "lung vitamin," the report says.

There are grounds for optimism. If antibiotics can be used judiciously, resistant bugs eventually could be isolated and eliminated, Koplan says. The key is to assure that antibiotics are used at the right times and in the right places, he says.

For some diseases, there are established strategies to avoid the use of antibiotics, Heymann points out. For example, the WHO already recommends the use of vaccinations and other low-cost interventions -- including keeping tabs on where infections have broken out and where they're likely to break out -- to stop the spread of resistant germs and ensure the most effective use of antibiotics, Heymann says.

Other recommendations that are outlined in the WHO report include educating the public and health care providers on the wiser use of antimicrobial drugs, and establishing treatment guidelines in hospitals, where resistant bugs often emerge. The WHO report also recommends decreasing the use of antibiotics in animals, increasing state funding for research on new drugs, and assuring that essential drugs are available, both to poor people in developed nations and to the governments of developing nations.

"It is a policy document," Heymann says of the report. "WHO is concerned that unless we make better use of these medications, they will not work in days to come."

The recommendations are likely to meet with some resistance themselves. In the U.S., for example, the FDA is considering adopting stricter rules about the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in animals, as has been done in several European nations. But the agency has encountered opposition from many in the agriculture industry who believe such rules are unnecessary and unwarranted.

 

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