What could be driving the rise of antibiotic resistance, now dubbed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a global health crisis?

It’s people worldwide getting “alarmingly confused about the role of antibiotics and the right way to take them,” according to a WHO statement released Monday.

Antibiotic resistance – where bacteria adapt and mutate to survive the antibiotics used to treat them – is believed to stem from the overuse and misuse of the drugs, worsening the development of so-called superbugs.

Superbugs include strains of tuberculosis, gonorrhea and typhoid that are already resistant to multiple drugs and are killing hundreds of thousands each year – with the numbers further growing.

During a press briefing from the WHO headquarters in Geneva, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan warned that the problem is fast “reaching dangerously high levels” all over the world and could end modern medicine.

The U.N. agency published the results of its public awareness survey and lamented that 64 percent of respondents mistakenly believe that antibiotics can serve as cold and flu treatment. Penicillin-based drugs and other antibiotic medications cannot address viral infections.

In addition, 32 percent think that they can stop antibiotic intake once they feel better – the full course of treatment should be completed, added the WHO.

Keiji Fukuda, WHO special representative for antimicrobial resistance, said that the findings raise the urgent need for improving awareness of proper antibiotic use.

"One of the biggest health challenges of the 21st century will require global behavior change by individuals and societies," he said, dubbing the rising superbug infections a “race against the pathogens” and estimating five to 10 years to reverse the dire situation.

For instance, in a national report on antibiotic resistance in Malaysia, one out of two patients in the country treated with Ampicillin for E. coli infection is no longer responding to the antibiotic. One of four Streptococcus pneumonia chest patients, too, is also not responding to erythromycin.

Other findings of the WHO survey, which covered 10,000 individuals across 12 countries, include 76 percent of respondents defining antibiotic resistant as the body being resistant to medication. In truth, the bacteria themselves are becoming immune from the antibiotics intended to kill them.

WHO highlighted the role of doctors in fighting antibiotic resistance, calling for them to promote strict prescription use and discourage patients from taking antibiotics unfit for their infections.

"Doctors need to treat antibiotics as a precious commodity," Chan emphasized.

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