The Dangerous Dozen: 12 Superbugs Identified as Most Dangerous Pathogens on the Planet

The WHO listed the top three critical pathogens as being the most urgent as they cause severe infections and high mortality for patients in a hospital setting.  Dr. Kieny indicated that while they are not as common as other drug-resistant infections, these first three are, in fact, the most costly in terms the medical resources needed to treat infected patients and in terms of the lives lost.

Not included on the list is the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, which is growing and last year killed an estimated 1.8 million people.  The WHO did not include it because the need for new antibiotics to treat TB has been designated at the highest priority level, and it already has its own dedicated program.

The dozen bacteria featured on the WHO’s priority pathogens list were chosen based on four criteria:

  • The level of drug resistance that already exist
  • The number of annual deaths they cause
  • The frequency with which people become infected outside of hospitals
  • Finally, the burden these infections place on health care systems.

The search for new antibiotics is not taking place at a pace that can keep up with the bacteria that is building resistances at an alarming rate.  The most recent new class of antibiotics was brought to market in 1987.  New antibiotics must be highly effective and affordable, two factors that are difficult to achieve when developing new drugs.

Yet, new and even more effective antibiotics must be found – and quickly.

Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Security summed up the importance of finding new and more effective drugs, “Effective antibiotics have been one of the pillars allowing us to live longer, live healthier, and benefit from modern medicine.  Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics, the world will lose more and more of these global public health goods and the implications will be devastating.”