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April 27, 2021

WHO global priority pathogens list of antibiotic-resistant bacteria

In 2017 the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a list of antibiotic-resistant ‘priority pathogens’ which includes 12 families of bacteria that pose the greatest threat to human health. The list has been divided into three key priorities based on the urgency and need for new antibiotics.

What are the most critical, priority pathogens?

According to WHO, the most critical group of all includes multidrug resistant bacteria that pose a particular threat in hospitals, nursing homes, and among patients whose care requires devices such as ventilators and blood catheters. They include Acinetobacter, Pseudomonas and various Enterobacteriaceae (including Klebsiella, E. coli, Serratia, and Proteus). They can cause severe and often deadly infections such as bloodstream infections and pneumonia. These bacteria have become resistant to a large number of antibiotics, including carbapenems and third generation cephalosporins – the best available antibiotics for treating multi-drug resistant bacteria.

COMBAT-AMR is working collaboratively in Pacific Island Countries to improve laboratory capacity to detect and undertake surveillance of antimicrobial resistant priority pathogens.

This will be achieved through mentoring and training to strengthen laboratory quality management, as well as refining best practice requirements for antimicrobial resistance (AMR) diagnostics. The project will also use laboratory quality systems to address the testing and performance criteria of AMR priority pathogens, collection and interpretation of AMR surveillance data, including use of WHONET, and reporting of laboratory results.


WHO global priority pathogens list of antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Priority 1: CRITICAL

Acinetobacter baumannii, carbapenem-resistant

Pseudomonas aeruginosa, carbapenem-resistant

Enterobacteriaceae, carbapenem-resistant, ESBL-producing


Priority 2: HIGH

Enterococcus faecium, vancomycin-resistant

Staphylococcus aureus, methicillin-resistant, vancomycin-intermediate and resistant

Helicobacter pylori, clarithromycin-resistant

Campylobacter spp., fluoroquinolone-resistant

Salmonellae, fluoroquinolone-resistant

Neisseria gonorrhoeae, cephalosporin-resistant, fluoroquinolone-resistant


Priority 3: MEDIUM

Streptococcus pneumoniae, penicillin-non-susceptible

Haemophilus influenzae, ampicillin-resistant

Shigella spp., fluoroquinolone-resistant

Read publication: Global priority list of antibiotic-resistant bacteria to guide research, discovery, and development of new antibiotics