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Antibiotic-resistant infections are killing millions, scientists say in Lancet study


MRSA bacteria

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Drug-resistant bacteria killed almost 1.3 million people in 2019, scientists have estimated — more than either HIV or malaria.

Research also indicated that 4.95 million people died from antibiotic-resistant bacteria infections in the same year.

The findings of the study — which was funded by the U.K. government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — were published in the peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet on Wednesday.

WHO described antibiotic resistance today as “one the greatest threats to global food security and health,” and stated that while the phenomenon is natural, it can be accelerated by the misuse of antibiotics in animals and humans.

Sometimes antibiotics are necessary to prevent or treat bacterial infection. But the overuse and misuse of antibiotics — such as in the treatment of viral infections like colds, which they are not effective against— has helped some bacteria evolve to become resistant to them.

This resistance is threatening our ability to treat common illnesses, leading to higher medical costs, longer hospital stays and increased mortality. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are more than 2.8 Million cases of antibiotic-resistant infection in the United States each year. This results in more than 35,000 deaths.

An increasing number of infections, such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, and gonorrhoea are more challenging to treat, since antibiotics have become less effective in fighting the bacteria responsible.

Major global health risk

The research paper’s authors describe AMR (bacterial antimicrobial resistant) as one of “the leading public health threats” of the 21st Century. They also note that the study provided the first worldwide estimates of its burden on populations.

This study examined 471,000,000 records in 204 countries and territories. It also analyzed existing data, hospital and other sources. The estimates are based upon the death rates associated with AMR bacteria for 23 pathogens, which can cause diseases.

Researchers found that pneumonia and lower respiratory infections were the leading causes of death from bacterial AMR. In 2019, bloodstream infections and intra abdominal infections were among the most common drug-resistant illnesses that caused deaths. Together, they accounted almost for 80% deaths from AMR.

MRSA and E.coli

E. coli and MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) were among the drug resistant bacteria that led to the most deaths, the study found. Research found that MRSA (the so-called “superbug”) directly contributed to more than 100,000 deaths over the course of the analysis.

Researchers said the WHO identified the six AMR pathogens that caused the greatest number of deaths in their study and designated them as priority pathogens.

The study found that drug resistant bacteria caused 16.4 deaths for every 100,000 people worldwide in 2019. AMR is the most common cause of death worldwide, with 27.3 per 100,000 people dying in West Sub-Saharan Africa.

Researchers found that 64 deaths were associated with bacterial AMR, although they weren’t directly related to it, in 2019.

In their paper, the scientists stated that they had found that each pathogen is susceptible to drug resistance. This warrants greater attention from all levels of the global health community, including funding and capacity building.

Investment in antibiotics is essential

To address drug-resistant bacteria, the authors of the study called for strict intervention strategies. Many were related to antibiotic use. Suggestions made in the paper included reducing human exposure to antibiotics in meat, minimizing the unnecessary use of antibiotics — for example, in treating viral infections — and preventing the need for antibiotics through vaccination programs and vaccine development.

Researchers said that maintaining investment in the research and development of new antibiotics was essential.

According to them, “investments in the public health sector have been relatively small over the last decade compared to those with comparable or lesser impact.”

Authors of the study acknowledged limitations in their research, including a dearth of data from low and middle income countries. This could cause an underestimate of AMR burdens in specific regions.

The report authors stated that “Efforts are made to improve the management of patients as well as the quality of surveillance data at local and global levels” in order to address the enormous burden of AMR.

“Enhanced infrastructure would also expand AMR research in the future to evaluate the indirect effects of AMR … Identifying strategies that can work to reduce the burden of bacterial AMR is an urgent priority.”