U.N. Report Warns of Future Threats from Treatment-Resistant Superbugs

The report urges countries to address climate change, waste disposal problems and antibiotic overuse to prevent the further evolution of treatment-resistant superbugs.

The proliferation of antibiotic-resistant superbugs poses a serious threat to human health, according to a new warning issued by the United Nations.

The UN Environment Programme published a new report on February 7, Bracing for Superbugs, indicating that antibiotic-resistant bacteria contribute to millions of deaths each year globally.

The report highlights growing evidence that the environment plays a key role in the development, transmission, and spread of antimicrobial resistance. The U.N. researchers warn that human health, animals, plants, and the environment are interdependent.

The end result is that superbug evolution is outpacing the development of antibiotics used to treat the bacteria, U.N. researchers warn. The report highlights knowledge gaps about antibiotic resistance and what is still needed to address the problem, and how the impacts would disproportionately affect poor countries.

Factors Contributing to New Superbugs

Antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals, and antiparasitics are commonly used to prevent and treat infections in humans, animals, and crops. The overuse and misuse of these drugs has led to the continuing development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The U.N. report analyzes three economic sectors, including pharmaceuticals and chemicals, agriculture and food, and healthcare. It also includes information on how pollutants from poor sanitation, sewage, and waste in municipal systems all play a role in the development and spread of antibiotic bacteria.

These industries promote the proliferation of dangerous superbugs that are resistant to treatment with current medications, according to the report.

The environment also plays a key role, according to U.N. researchers. The report indicates antibiotic resistance is linked to climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, and waste, which are all driven by human activity, including unsustainable human production and consumption patterns.

Addressing Climate Change and Antibiotic Overuse

The report proposes a top-down initiative to address the problem, calling for governments worldwide to fund planning, climate change initiatives, and superbug monitoring.

Additionally, the U.N recommends restrictions should be placed on antibiotic use on farms and the discharge of wastewater from pharmaceutical companies. The report also indicates wastewater management should be improved and calls for safer sanitation practices.

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Antibiotic resistance is a serious threat to human health, causing at least 35,000 deaths in the U.S. each year and more than 1.3 million globally. The World Health Organization named antibiotic resistance one of the 10 threats to global health, potentially harming human health, food security, and the environment.

Estimates indicate antibiotic resistance leads to more than five million deaths annually, which could increase to more than 15 million by 2050.

Despite the known risks of antibiotic resistance, doctors still widely prescribe antibiotics to patients for conditions that cannot be treated by the drugs, leading to an even greater antibiotic resistance impact.


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