WHO Study Finds Widespread Antibiotic Resistance

The WHO's Global Antimicrobial Surveillance System (GLASS) aims to improve systems for monitoring antimicrobial resistance worldwide.

( World Health Organization )

The World Health Organization (WHO) this week released the first report from its Global Antimicrobial Surveillance System (GLASS), showing high levels of antibiotic resistance in human pathogens worldwide.

WHO highlighted the need for a global surveillance system in a 2014 report titled Antimicrobial resistance global report on surveillance, and the organization launched GLASS in 2015. The surveillance system is based on experience of other WHO surveillance programs, such as that for tuberculosis (TB), which has been implemented in 188 countries over the past 24 years.

In the new report, the most commonly reported resistant bacteria were Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Staphylococcus aureus, and Streptococcus pneumoniae, followed by Salmonella spp. Among patients with suspected bloodstream infection, the proportion that had bacteria resistant to at least one of the most commonly used antibiotics varied from zero to 82%, depending on the country, while resistance to penicillin ranged from zero to 51% among reporting countries. Also, according to the report, between 8% to 65% of E. coli associated with urinary tract infections showed resistance to ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic commonly used to treat this condition.

The GLASS report does not include data on resistance of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which causes TB, as WHO already provides annual updates in the Global tuberculosis report.

“Some of the world’s most common – and potentially most dangerous – infections are proving drug-resistant,” says Dr Marc Sprenger, director of WHO’s Antimicrobial Resistance Secretariat. “And most worrying of all, pathogens don’t respect national borders. That’s why WHO is encouraging all countries to set up good surveillance systems for detecting drug resistance that can provide data to this global system.”

To date, 52 countries (25 high-income, 20 middle-income and 7 low-income countries) are enrolled in WHO’s Global Antimicrobial Surveillance System. For this report, 40 countries provided information about their national surveillance systems and 22 countries also provided data on levels of antibiotic resistance. The authors note that data in this report vary widely in quality and completeness, as some participating countries face major challenges in building national surveillance systems, including lack of personnel, funds and infrastructure. Read the full GLASS report from WHO.

In related news, Wellcome has launched a new, international expert group called the Surveillance and Epidemiology of Drug-Resistant Infections Consortium (SEDRIC).

Professor Sharon Peacock, a clinical microbiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Wellcome Sanger Institute, serves as the group’s chair. “Our aim is to help transform the way countries are able to track, share and analyze information about the rise and spread of infections which can no longer be affectively treated by existing antibiotics,” she says.

SEDRIC will build on work by GLASS and others to provide technical expertise and knowledge, while also exploring new technologies such as using genomics in bacterial sequencing and artificial intelligence to gain better understanding of the mechanisms of resistance and how spreads.

Read more about SEDRIC from Wellcome.