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WHO Releases First List of ‘Superbugs’ Posing Most Risk to Humans

The World Health Organization (WHO) released its first list ever compiled to classify 12 antibiotic-resistant “priority pathogens” that pose the most risk to human health.

The list was developed in conjunction with the University of Tübingen in Germany using several criteria:

  • deadliness of the related infections;
  • length of hospital stays with associated treatments;
  • level of antibiotic resistance;
  • how easily the pathogen is spread;
  • ease of prevention;
  • number of treatment options; and
  • whether new antibiotics already are being developed.

It is divided into three sections — critical, high, and medium — by the urgency of the need to develop antibiotics. The most critical group includes multidrug-resistant bacteria that pose a particular threat in hospitals and nursing homes, and among patients requiring the use of ventilators and blood catheters.

The list is aimed at guiding and promoting the research and development of new antibiotics. WHO hopes it will spur governments to impose policies incentivizing publicly- and privately-funded agencies to invest in the development of antibiotics to treat the pathogens.

Contact Director of Policy Erin O’Malley at or 202.585.0127 with questions.


About the Author

Michelle Rosenfeld is senior writer/editor at America's Essential Hospitals.

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