Scientists say they are alarmed by the rise of drug-resistant genes in humans that could soon return us to the days when simple injuries or straightforward infections posed a real threat to life.

Biomedical scientists at a recent meeting of the American Society for Microbiology revealed that bacteria containing an mcr-1 gene which confers resistance to colistin — the “antibiotic of last resort” — has become disturbingly widespread over the 1.5 years since its discovery.

In many parts of the world doctors have turned to colistin because patients were no longer responding to any other antimicrobial agent. Now, with more people carrying mcr-1, resistance to its use is spreading across the globe.

England’s chief medical officer Sally Davies described the process as a fast-approaching “antibiotic apocalypse,” and declared that if humans fail to develop new types of antibiotics or find an alternative solution, our next generations could be deprived of the ability to perform even routine medical operations. For instance, a patient could die from peritonitis if antibiotics have no effect during appendix-removal surgery.

The prospect of tackling drug-resistant infections will be discussed later this week in Berlin, at a conference organized by the UN Foundation, UK biomedical research charity Wellcome, along with Ghanaian and Thai government representatives.

International scientists, health officers, pharmaceutical chiefs and politicians will deliberate measures to be taken to cope with one of the greatest challenges humanity will face.

Currently, about 700,000 people die from drug-resistant infections annually. But as drug resistance continues to spread, the numbers grow persistently, and could reach 10 million people a year in just three decades.

“Routine surgery, joint replacements, caesarean sections, and chemotherapy also depend on antibiotics, and will also be at risk,” said Jonathan Pearce, head of infections and immunity at the UK Medical Research Council, as cited by the Guardian. “Common infections could kill again,” Pearce warned.

According to scientists, the first step humans must take to stop the spread of drug-resistance is to stop misusing and overusing antibiotics and other drugs when dealing with small complaints. As for the pharmaceutical companies, epidemiologists offer that it falls under corporate responsibility to investigate and develop new sources of general medicines.