Some common infections are developing resistance to current medicines and a health crisis is looming, New Zealanders are being warned.
The NZ College of Public Health Medicine is raising its concerns about the responsible use of antibiotics to mark World Antibiotic Awareness Week, which starts today.
College spokesman Professor Michael Baker says resistance to antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines is a major public health issue.
Known as antimicrobial resistance (AMR), a state in which micro-organisms no longer respond to treatment by antimicrobial medicines, such as antibiotics and antifungals, it could cause 10 million deaths globally each year by 2050 if allowed to continue unchecked.
"This means standard treatments for a variety of relatively common infections are becoming ineffective," Baker said.
"The medicines no longer work, infections persist and people remain sick, increasing the risk of dying and spread to others."
Baker said AMR "threatens the very core of modern medicine" and has been described as a leading global health issue.
The college is calling for New Zealand to have a national plan for AMR and implementing the New Zealand Antimicrobial Resistance Action Plan that was published earlier this year.
It wants the planning to incorporate preventing infections, improving antimicrobial prescribing, public education and a national DHB-level monitoring.
The national strategy needs to be linked with international efforts.
"This is a global issue in which New Zealand absolutely has to play its part," Baker said.
"We need widespread commitment and leadership from medical, veterinary and agricultural sectors in New Zealand, working together."
It is estimated that about two million people in the United States become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 die as a direct result, according to figures released by the college.
Although rates of AMR were low in NZ, there had been a "progressive increase" in recent years.
Contributing factors for this include an over-reliance on broad spectrum antibiotics and excessive use of topical antibiotics.
The college says more must be done to prevent infections at all levels, from community settings to travel and in healthcare settings.
"Preventing transmission and infection in healthcare settings is essential to controlling the spread of AMR," it said.
"This is where most of the important resistant pathogens and the mobile genetic elements they contain have disseminated internationally."
The college said there was also a need for new research to identify the most effective methods to revive and sustain the effectiveness of existing antimicrobial agents.