World’s third leading cause of death probably isn’t what you think, new study reveals

Antibiotic resistance is often seen as a “future problem”, but recently published data has revealed that it affects many, many more lives than you might imagine.

In fact, new estimates show that in 2019 there were 4.95 million deaths associated with bacterial resistance to antimicrobials, making it the third leading cause of death worldwide.

Drugs that kill bacteria are undeniably one of mankind’s greatest discoveries. Since Alexander Fleming discovered the antibacterial activity of fungi Penicillium Since 1928, we no longer have to worry about death caused by scratches from a rosebush or gonorrhoea. In the decades that followed, antibiotics saved millions and millions of lives around the world.

But bacteria developed resistance to antibiotics long before we started using them, because it’s a naturally evolved bioweapon for the war between microbes. Repeated and repeated use of the same antibiotics gives bacteria the chance to adapt to them even faster, leading to an increasing number of infections that no longer respond to traditional (or even last resort) antibiotics.

Unfortunately, the more bacterial species that fail to respond to antibiotics, the more patients will succumb to resistant infections – and researchers are sounding the alarm that we are losing more people to antimicrobial resistance every year than we do. HIV/AIDS or malaria.

“These new data reveal the true extent of antimicrobial resistance worldwide and are a clear signal that we must act now to combat the threat,” says University of Washington health economist Chris Murray, co-author new research.

“Previous estimates predicted 10 million annual deaths from antimicrobial resistance by 2050, but we now know for sure that we are already much closer to that number than we thought. We need to build on these data to course-correct and drive innovation if we are to stay ahead of the race against antimicrobial resistance.”

The researchers analyzed data on 23 different bacterial species (including E.coli, S.pneumoniae and S. aureus) and 88 microbe-drug combinations from 204 countries. This ended up covering 471 million infection records, which they then used to create statistical models to estimate the extent of antimicrobial resistance.

The team explored two counterfactual scenarios. In the first, all drug-resistant infections were replaced by no infections, which the team says is the number of deaths associated with antimicrobial resistance.

In the second scenario, they replaced all drug-resistant infections with drug-susceptible infections, leading to an estimate of deaths directly caused by antimicrobial resistance.

The team concluded that in 2019, 4.95 million deaths were associated with drug-resistant bacterial infections, of which 1.27 million deaths were directly caused by antimicrobial resistance – a huge burden in all parts of the world. world, but particularly affecting low and middle incomes. countries.

Death rates attributable to and associated with bacterial resistance to antimicrobials in 2019. (Antimicrobial Resistance Collaborators, The Lancet, 2022)

These calculations suggest that only stroke and heart disease caused more deaths than antimicrobial resistance that year.

The authors note that to their knowledge, this is the first time that such a global estimate has been made. Given that there are data gaps from some parts of the world and serious difficulties in carrying out antimicrobial resistance surveillance, there are some limitations to their modeling. But the conclusion is clear: we have a major global health problem.

“The threat of antimicrobial resistance has long been flagged. And the actions needed to tackle antimicrobial resistance – raising public awareness, improving surveillance, improving diagnostics, using antibiotics more rationally, accessing safe drinking water and to sanitation, embracing One Health and investing in new antimicrobials and vaccines – have been consistently recommended. But action has been episodic and uneven, resulting in global inequalities in antimicrobial resistance,” The Lancet the editors add an editorial accompanying the research.

“Innovation has been extremely slow. Vaccines are available for only one of the six main pathogens described in the study. The clinical pipeline of antibiotics is too small to cope with the growing emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance.

The authors of the editorial and the original study urge leaders to put antimicrobial resistance higher on their agendas. Without urgent action, they warn, we will see even higher levels of preventable deaths in the years to come.

The research has been published in The Lancet.

Comments are closed.