An infectious diseases expert has compared the increase of bacteria resistant to antibiotics in New Zealand to climate change - saying actions of people today will affect how generations in the future are able to treat common infections.

The World Health Organisation has released a report warning that common infections such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and urinary tract infections could become fatal as antibiotic-resistant bacteria increase.

Read more: Desperate need for new drugs or minor infections could kill - report

Associate Professor in Infectious Diseases Dr Mark Thomas said patients need to learn that many everyday illnesses can be beaten by their immune systems alone.


He said antibiotics were being prescribed too often to patients who didn't need them.

Read more: Are doctors misusing antibiotic prescriptions?

"It's a two-way relationship. The patients think they have an illness that would benefit from antibiotic treatment. The doctors don't want to disappoint the patient or have the patient feel that they haven't had the best possible treatment."

Dr Thomas, from the University of Auckland, said patients with minor cases of bronchitis, colds and minor skin infections often don't need to take antibiotics, and our antibiotic use is high compared with other countries.

"It's like global warming; so everyday actions by people who think 'my antibiotic use won't make any difference to me or the community I live in' - it does.

"It makes a small contribution to the problem getting worse and to those antibiotics not being as useful for future generations as they have been for our generation."

Leading microbiologist, Auckland University's Dr Siouxsie Wiles, said after years of microbiologists knowing that bacteria were becoming resistant to antibiotics, it was a good step to have the report released.

"I'm hoping everybody is listening," she said.

Dr Wiles said untreatable infectious diseases have been seen in New Zealand, and she agreed with the WHO report that they would become more common within a decade.

She called for investment by the Ministry of Health into research for new antibiotics and development of ways to treat bacteria other than by using antibiotics.

Assistant Director-General for health security at WHO, Dr Keiji Fukuda, said common infections could become fatal if action was not taken.

"Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.

"Effective antibiotics have been one of the pillars allowing us to live longer, live healthier, and benefit from modern medicine.

"Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics, the world will lose more and more of these global public health goods and the implications will be devastating."

The WHO recommended doctors and pharmacists prescribe and dispense antibiotics only when truly needed. They recommended the health industry research and develop new tools to combat the resistance, prevent the spread of infections in hospitals and encourage patients to complete the full prescription of antibiotics when they are prescribed appropriately.