UTIs Are Becoming Antibiotic-Resistant and Could Get Way, Way Worse

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Scientists are really, really serious about UTIs becoming untreatable this time.

Every few years we are warned that all the curable but extremely unpleasant ailments, like gonorrhea, will soon be incurable and thus much worse than unpleasant. Do we listen? No. In 2014, society was warned about the uptick in UTI infections, connecting the issue to our antibiotic-resistant supermarket meat. Now, New Scientist reports that the World Health Organization is basically trying to get rich countries to pay pharmaceutical companies to make new antibiotics, because production is unprofitable despite the desperate need.


According to the New Scientist, the WHO has published a list of which bacteria we most desperately need antibiotics for in preparation for a G20 meeting in Berlin. At the top is Escherichia coli, the bacteria behind UTIs, which affects around 250 million people a year, and mostly women:

E. coli is also the cause of most UTIs, one of the most common infections that require treatment with antibiotics – half of all women have a UTI at least once in their lives. Functioning antibiotics make UTIs only a minor annoyance, but if antibiotics fail, the infection can spread into the kidneys and bloodstream, and even become life-threatening. UTIs that resist one or more types of antibiotic are becoming more common.

“There are few options for treating a UTI due to extensively drug resistant bacteria,” says Abdul Ghafur at the Apollo Specialty Hospital in Chennai, India, a leading expert on antibiotic resistance. “In severe cases we may have to use intravenous colistin, but colistin resistance is increasingly being reported in India.” UTIs resistant to all antibiotics “do occur.”

Colistin is apparently becoming ineffective because it is used as a growth promoter in livestock. It’s suspected that colistin resistant strains of the bacteria are being carried from livestock to humans via flies or “superbugs,” PBS reports. Nicola Magrini of the WHO told New Scientist that “priorities really need to be spelled out.”

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