In pictures: the 12 most deadly superbugs

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 February, 2017, 10:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 February, 2017, 10:02pm

The World Health Organisation has announced its first list of antibiotic-resistant “priority pathogens”, detailing 12 families of bacteria that agency experts say pose the greatest threat to human health and kill millions of people every year.

The list is divided into three categories, prioritised by the urgency of the need for new antibiotics. The purpose is to guide and promote research and development of new drugs, officials said.

Superbugs that the WHO considers the highest priority are responsible for severe infections and high mortality rates, especially among hospitalised patients in intensive care or using ventilators and blood catheters, as well as among transplant recipients and people undergoing chemotherapy.

Included in this highest-priority group is CRE, or carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, which US health officials have dubbed “nightmare bacteria.” In some instances, it kills up to 50 per cent of patients who become infected. An elderly Nevada woman who died last year contracted an infection caused by CRE that was resistant to all 26 antibiotics available in the United States.

World’s 12 deadly superbugs

Also included in this critical group is Acinetobacter baumannii; the infections tied to it typically occur in ICUs and settings with very sick patients. Also listed is Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can be spread on the hands of health-care workers or by equipment that gets contaminated and is not properly cleaned. The list’s second and third tiers - the high and medium priority categories - cover bacteria that cause more common diseases, such as gonorrhea and food poisoning caused by salmonella.

In the United States, antibiotic-resistant infections kill an estimated 23,000 Americans each year, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Global estimates are difficult because there is no uniform way to include antimicrobial resistance in causes of death. But experts say that drug-resistant infections, especially those caused by the WHO’s highest-priority pathogens, double or triple the risk of death.