Once known as silver bullets for treating childhood threatening infections such as sepsis and meningitis and pneumonia and bloodstream infections in babies and children, antibiotics including Ceftriaxone, Gentamicin and aminopenicillins seems to have lost their punch to the increasing resistance from superbugs.
In what should be a wakeup call for India as for the world, a study has found that , in fact, antibiotics resistance has become so strong that these drugs meant to treat common life threatening infections in children and babies are no longer much effective.
The most seriously affected regions are in Southeast Asia and the Pacific where thousands of unnecessary deaths in children resulting from antibiotic resistance occur each year, the study published in the Lancet regional Health-Southeast Asia journal said.
The researchers had analysed 6,648 bacterial isolates from 11 countries across 86 publications to review antibiotic susceptibility for common bacteria causing childhood infections. The data collated largely arose from urban tertiary hospital settings with over-representation from particular countries, especially India and China.
The analysis found that many antibiotics recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) had less than 50 per cent effectiveness in treating childhood infections. Thus there is a need for WHO to update its guidelines on antibiotics. The most recent guidelines from the WHO were published in 2013.
The WHO has declared that antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity. In newborns, an estimated three million cases of sepsis occur globally each year, with up to 570,000 (5.7 lakh) deaths.
Many of these are due to lack of effective antibiotics to treat resistant superbugs. The research shows the urgent need for global antibiotic guidelines to be updated, to reflect the rapidly evolving rates of AMR.
The study found that ceftriaxone, was likely to be effective in treating only one in three cases of sepsis or meningitis in newborn babies. Another antibiotic, gentamicin, was found likely to be effective in treating fewer than half of all sepsis and meningitis cases in children, according to the researchers.
Gentamicin is commonly prescribed alongside aminopenicillins, which the study showed also has low effectiveness in combating bloodstream infections in babies and children.
"Antibiotic resistance is rising more rapidly than we realize," said study lead author Phoebe Williams from the University of Sydney. "We urgently need new solutions to stop invasive multidrug-resistant infections and the needless deaths of thousands of children each year," Williams said.
She said that the best way to tackle antibiotic resistance in childhood infections is to make funding to investigate new antibiotic treatments for children and newborns a priority.
"Antibiotic clinical focus on adults and too often children and newborns are left out. That means we have very limited options and data for new treatments," she noted.
Apart from the childhood infection cases, today, around 2 million children are exposed to multidrug-resistant TB, and a further 5 million to Rifampicin-resistant TB. One out of every two infants newly diagnosed with HIV is infected with a virus already harboring resistance to the most commonly used first-line antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, with resistance to first-line ARVs being as high as 63.7% in infants diagnosed with HIV.