Antibiotic resistance has become so strong that drugs for treating common and even some life threatening infections in babies and children are ‘no longer effective’.
An Australian study found that medications recommended by the World Health Organisation work in less than 50 per cent of pneumonia, sepsis and meningitis cases in children.
The WHO has said resistance to antibiotics is one of the 10 major public health threats facing humanity, but its own guidelines on suitable medications for children have not kept pace with the issue.
Antibiotic-resistant superbugs killed an estimated 1.27 million people (children and adults) in 2019 and a recent UN report predicted by 2050 an additional 10 million people could die every year.
The new Sydney university research focuses on the lack of effectiveness of many antibiotics in children and newborns and what can be done about it.
Antibiotic resistance is considered a bigger problem in children than in adults as new antibiotics are less likely to be trialled on or given to children.
Antibiotic resistance has become so strong that drugs for treating common and even some life threatening infections in babies and children are ‘no longer effective’. Pictured: stock image of a mother with her newborn
The study’s lead author, Dr Phoebe Williams, a Sydney paediatrician, described the research as a ‘wake-up call’ for Australia and the world
Ceftriaxone (pictured), an antibiotic widely used in Australia, is effective in just one in three cases of sepsis or meningitis. Both are life-threatening conditions for babies.
While the biggest concerns revealed by the University of Sydney research relate to South-east Asia and Pacific Islands nations, Ceftriaxone, an antibiotic widely used in Australia, performs especially poorly.
It is effective in just one in three cases of sepsis (bloodstream infections) or meningitis. Both are life-threatening conditions for babies.
THE TOP 10 GLOBAL HEALTH THREATS
1. Air Pollution and Climate Change
2. Noncommunicable Diseases (i.e. heart, lung disease, cancers)
3. Global Influenza Pandemic
4. Fragile and Vulnerable Settings (i.e. in war zones)
5. Resistance to antibiotics
6. Ebola and Other High-Threat Pathogens
7. Weak Primary Health Care
8. Vaccine hesitancy
9. Dengue fever
Source: World Health Organisation
Worldwide an estimated three million newborns contract sepsis occur each year with 570,000 babies dying, often due to lack drugs able to treat resistant bacteria.
Ceftriaxone is also used to treat many common infections in Australian children, including pneumonia and urinary tract infections.
The study’s lead author, Dr Phoebe Williams, a Sydney paediatrician, is currently looking for supplies of an old antibiotic, fosfomycin as a temporary lifeline to treat multidrug-resistant urinary tract infections in Australian children.
Another antibiotic, gentamicin, was found likely to be effective in treating fewer than half of all sepsis and meningitis cases in Aussie kids.
Gentamicin is often prescribed alongside aminopenicillins, which the study showed also has low effectiveness against bloodstream infections in babies and children.
The research reveals the urgent need for global antibiotic guidelines to be updated, to reflect the rapidly evolving rates of antimicrobial resistance.
The most recent guideline from The World Health Organization was published in 2013.
Dr Williams says the study is a wake-up call for the whole world, including Australia.
‘We are not immune to this problem – the burden of anti-microbial resistance is on our doorstep,’ she said.
‘Antibiotic resistance is rising more rapidly than we realise. We urgently need new solutions to stop invasive multidrug-resistant infections and the needless deaths of thousands of children each year.’
She said funding must be prioritised to investigate new antibiotic treatments for children and newborns.
WHO has declared antimicrobial resistance as one of the top 10 global public health threats against humanity, while one expert has called the threat of AMR as severe as terrorism (file photo)
Dr Williams, an infectious disease specialist working to reduce antimicrobial resistance, is pictured working in Kenya
‘Antibiotic clinical focus on adults and too often children and newborns are left out.’
The Sydney university study analysed 6,648 cases from 11 countries and was published in Lancet South East Asia.
Acording to the WHO the ability of bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi to resist medicines – threatens to send us back to a time when we were unable to easily treat infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and salmonellosis.
The inability to prevent infections could also seriously compromise surgery and procedures such as chemotherapy.
READ MORE: Air pollution linked to rise of antibiotic resistance threat
Antibiotic resistance – one of the biggest threats to global health – could be on the rise in part because of increased air pollution, a new study has warned.
Researchers in China have found a global correlation between the a pollutant called PM2.5 in the air and cases of bacteria becoming immune to antibiotic drugs.
Researchers in China say air pollution and antibiotic resistance are linked but they can’t say exactly why. Illustration shows the potential pathways of the bacteria that have evolved to become ‘superbugs’