Global deaths from antibiotic-resistant ‘super bugs’ have surged seven-fold in half a decade


Global deaths from antibiotic-resistant ‘super-bugs’ have surged 600 percent in just five years, one expert warns.

Scientists have been sounding the alarm over bacterial infections resistant to current treatments for years, and calling on people to use the medicines less often. 

But now Dr Christopher Murray, a University of Washington physician who co-authored a Lancet paper on the emerging crisis, has warned fatalities are rising. 

Murray estimated earlier this year that up to 5 million people globally have died with infections resistant to the drugs. 

This was up from the 700,000 global deaths with the infections estimated five years earlier in a landmark UK report. 

Dr Christopher Murray estimated earlier this year that up to 5million people died with infections resistant to antibiotics globally in 2019

Speaking on the University of Chicago’s ‘Big Brains’ podcast, Murray said ‘even for people in the field’ it was a surprise how big the number was. 

‘There was a very influential study called the O’Neill report for the UK Government on the risks of anti-microbial resistance,’ he said.

‘And they had started off with some numbers for 2015, they were quite a bit smaller, only 700,000 deaths.

WHEN SHOULD YOU TAKE ANTIBIOTICS? 

Antibiotics may be used to treat bacterial infections that are unlikely to clear up on their own, may infect others, or pose serious risks.

They are needed most when someone suffers from sepsis, pneumonia, a urinary tract infections (UTI), sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhoea or meningococcal meningitis.

But they are also frequently being used to treat illnesses such as coughs, earache and sore throats.

Experts recommend against this, saying these cases normally clear up by themselves. 

Taking antibiotics encourages harmful bacteria that live inside you to become resistant.

That means that the medicines may not work when you really need them.

Research in 2017 showed that 38 per cent of people still expect an antibiotic from a doctor when they visit with a cough, flu or a throat, ear, sinus or chest infection.

‘Our 5 million number is the one that’s comparable to their 700,000 number.’ 

Murray’s estimate was based on data from surveillance systems, studies and hospital surveys from more than 200 countries.

These were then fed into a statistical model, to estimate the number of people dying with the diseases globally, in a similar way to the report from UK experts.

He suggested that around one million deaths were directly triggered by the resistant infections.  

Murray also suggested that pneumonia deaths may double if the the super-bugs become widespread enough. 

‘If you take all (pneumonia patients coming) to U.S. hospitals, even the ones who get hospitalized, the case fatality rate is less than 5 percent, depends on the bug, but on average for them all,’ he said. 

‘Whereas in the pre-antibiotic era, it would’ve been a much higher number. 

‘Look, antibiotics are life saving drugs, they can have or reduce your case fatality rate by 80, 90 per cent, a good antibiotic, and so are truly life saving.’

Antibiotic resistance is considered by scientists to be one of the top health threats in the world, alongside climate change and terrorism.

This is because it allows bacteria to evade common and once effective medicines, leaving doctors unable to treat once curable diseases.

Dr Chris Murray, from Washington University, warned about the rise

Dr Chris Murray, from Washington University, warned about the rise

Antibiotics work by attacking dangerous bacteria — such as E.coli which can trigger kidney failure in serious cases — and killing them to stop an infection.

But if the medicines are used too often, bacteria can become resistant, making the treatments ineffective.

Bacteria can also become resistant if incorrect doses are taken or if they are exposed to low levels of the antibiotic.

These may be insufficient to kill them but enough for them to adapt to survive the drugs.

When this happens stronger antibiotics must be used to stop the illness, but this runs the risk bacteria will also evolve resistance to these as they begin to be used more often.

About 2.4 million antibiotic-resistant infections are now thought to occur in the U.S. every year, estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.

This leads to about 35,900 deaths from these illnesses, up half from the 23,000 estimated in 2013.

Resistant strains health officials are keeping tabs on include C.difficile — which can trigger permanent damage to the large intestine — and gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease. 

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