January 29, 2018
2 min read

New WHO data show high levels of antibiotic resistance worldwide

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Photo of Marc Sprenger
Marc Sprenger

WHO released its first report from the agency’s new Global Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance System, which revealed high levels of antibiotic resistance to common bacterial infections in both high- and low-income countries.

“The report confirms the serious situation of antibiotic resistance worldwide,” Marc Sprenger, MD, PhD, director of the WHO Antimicrobial Resistance Secretariat, said in a news release.

WHO launched the Global Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance System (GLASS) in October 2015 to establish a standardized approach to collecting, analyzing and sharing data on antimicrobial resistance worldwide. GLASS specifically assesses drug resistance found in certain bacterial infections caused by Acinetobacter spp., Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Salmonella spp., Shigella spp., Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae. It does not monitor drug-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis, malaria or HIV — all of which have their own drug resistance surveillance programs, the release said.

So far, 52 countries (25 high-income, 20 middle-income and seven low-income countries) have enrolled in GLASS. This first report contains information on antibiotic resistance levels provided by 22 countries.

“Surveillance is in its infancy, but it is vital to develop it if we are to anticipate and tackle one of the biggest threats to global public health,” GLASS coordinator Carmem Pessoa-Silva, MD, PhD, said in the release.

The data primarily focus on pathogens isolated from blood specimens, followed by urine, stool, cervical and urethral specimens. Among approximately 500,000 people with suspected bloodstream infections, the proportion of those whose bacteria were resistant to at least one frequently used antibiotic varied by country, ranging from 0% to 82%, according to the release. The most common antibiotic-resistant pathogens included E. coli, K. pneumoniae, S. aureus and S. pneumoniae, which were detected in 17 countries, followed by Salmonella spp., which was detected in 15 countries. Of note, the proportion of isolates with resistance to penicillin ranged from 0% to 51%. In addition, 8% to 65% of E. coli associated with urinary tract infections were resistant to ciprofloxacin.

“Some of the world’s most common — and potentially most dangerous — infections are proving drug resistant,” Sprenger said in the release. “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.”


WHO. Global antimicrobial resistance surveillance system (GLASS) report. http://www.who.int/glass/resources/publications/early-implementation-report/en/. Accessed January 29, 2018.

Disclosures: Pessoa-Silva coordinates GLASS at WHO, and Sprenger is director of the WHO Antimicrobial Resistance Secretariat.