New research published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has revealed that more than 30,000 people die in Europe every single year from antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs.”
Researchers estimate that anywhere between 31,000 and 39,000 Europeans succumb to death by superbugs, often due to overdependence on and abuse of pharmaceutical antibiotics, which are a leading cause of superbugs.
Antibiotic overuse both in human and veterinary medicine has caused deadly bacteria to become “smarter,” effectively outsmarting even the most advanced antibiotics designed to destroy them.
The hardest-hit countries, according to data compiled by statistician Anna Fleck, suggest that people in southern Europe, including in Italy and Romania, are among the most highly impacted by Europe. In Scandinavia, conversely, superbug deaths are far fewer.
All in all, the most hard-hit nations by superbugs are Greece, Italy, Romania, and Cyprus, with annual mortality rates of between 10 and 20 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants due to superbugs, according to data spanning from 2016 through 2020.
The Netherlands and Norway have the lowest mortality rates due to superbugs at just two per 100,000 inhabitants.
(Related: Earlier this year, an entire ICU at a Chinese hospital was completely overtaken by antibiotic-resistant superbugs.)
Superbugs killed nearly 5M people worldwide in 2019
Another report out of Florida from this past week suggests that antibiotic-resistant infections contributed to almost five million deaths worldwide in 2019.
In the United States specifically, superbugs are now the third leading cause of death, this also based on data from 2019.
LaVerne A. Burton, president and CEO of the American Kidney Fund, says there is good news on the way with the introduction of a new bill called the PASTEUR Act that she says will “jump-start the arsenal of new medicines we need to counteract the accelerating superbug pandemic.”
“Antimicrobial resistance occurs when pathogens like bacteria and fungi evolve to fend off currently available antimicrobial medications,” she writes. “It’s hard to overstate how pervasive AMR is. A stunning 92% of urinary tract infections are resistant to at least one antibiotic. Nine in 10 cases of the hospital-associated fungus Candida auris are drug-resistant.”
“Nobody is immune to superbugs, but certain patient groups are at much higher risk of infection. People with chronic conditions, like kidney disease, or weakened immune systems, are more likely to contract a drug-resistant infection.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a study a few years back warning that people on dialysis are particularly susceptible to contracting a deadly superbug. They are up to 100 times more likely than the average person to get sick from a superbug, in fact.
And it just so happens that infection is the leading cause of death among patients on dialysis, suggesting that their pre-existing health conditions are not to blame, but rather the treatments they are receiving that end up contaminating their blood with superbugs.
“To preserve the efficacy of antimicrobials, especially the newest ones, physicians must prescribe them only when they’re appropriate for the patient,” Burton says. “This careful use – known as stewardship – helps slow the rate of resistance. But it also limits their sales potential, making it nearly impossible for drug developers to sustain through their upfront investments.”
What the PASTEUR Act aims to do is create a new, alternative payment model for antimicrobials in which the government enters into contracts directly with antimicrobial innovators.
“These contracts would not be based on volume, but rather access to novel treatments,” Burton explains. “Antimicrobial developers are assured the revenue they need to innovate new treatments, while clinicians focus on using antimicrobials as judiciously as possible.”
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