Surveillance of Antibiotic Resistance Gene Epidemics

Co-Directors, World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Surveillance of Antimicrobial Resistance, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Initially, each new antibiotic cured almost all bacterial infections. However, infecting bacteria then began to acquire genes that blocked the antibiotic’s action. Such resistance genes arose somewhere by mutation or by transfer from obscure bacteria to an infecting strain, and were then driven from their origin by antibiotic use through genetic elements, bacterial strains, animals, and people, to different hospitals and continents. Such epidemics of resistance genes and the bacteria that carry them have spread resistant strains throughout the world. As these genes have spread through the global population of infecting bacteria, successive antibiotics have become ineffective and patients have died as a result.