Nearly 35,000 Americans die every year from serious antibiotic-resistant infections, with over 2.8 million cases reported

New CDC data shows while the burden of antibiotic-resistance threats in the US is greater than initially understood, deaths are decreasing since the previous estimates in 2013.


                            Nearly 35,000 Americans die every year from serious antibiotic-resistant infections, with over 2.8 million cases reported

The number of people facing antibiotic resistance in the US is very high: each year over 2.8 million Americans get serious infections with bacteria that are resistant to one or more of the antibiotics designed to treat them, and it kills more than 35,000 people. 

According to the latest estimates by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and fungi cause at least an estimated 2,868,700 infections and 35,900 deaths. In addition, nearly 223,900 people in the US required hospital care for C. difficile and at least 12,800 people died in 2017, says the analysis.

The numbers reveal that despite dedicated prevention and infection control efforts, the number of people who get infected and die is too high, according to the report by the CDC. They say more action is needed across settings, industries, and countries to fully protect people from antibiotic resistance threats.

Nearly 223,900 people in the US required hospital care for C. difficile and at least 12,800 people died in 2017, says CDC report. (Getty Images)

The report lists 18 antibiotic-resistant bacteria and fungi into three categories based on the level of concern to human health - urgent, serious, and concerning. The report also includes a "watch list” with three threats that have not spread resistance widely in the US but could become common without a continued aggressive approach.

These germs are public health threats that require urgent and aggressive action, says CDC.
(Report on antibiotic resistance threats in the US, 2019)

The current estimates come six years after the first antibiotic resistance threat report was published by the CDC in 2013. Back then, the CDC had estimated that over two million people are sickened every year with antibiotic-resistant infections, with at least 23,000 dying as a result. 

The present report covers over 700 geographically diverse US acute-care hospitals, allowing experts a “look back” at the 2013 data to redefine the true burden of resistance for some germs. The revised estimate shows that more than 2.6 million antibiotic-resistant infections and nearly 44,000 deaths occurred each year when the 2013 report was published. When compared to the previous estimate, the updated estimate describing the number of deaths caused by antibiotic resistance each year is nearly two times higher. 

However, deaths decreased by 18% since the 2013 report, which suggests that prevention efforts in hospitals are working, but requires more work, say researchers. 

“While the burden of antibiotic-resistance threats in the US was greater than initially understood, deaths are decreasing since the 2013 report. This suggests that US efforts - preventing infections, stopping the spread of bacteria and fungi, and improving the use of antibiotics in humans, animals, and the environment - are working, especially in hospitals. Vaccination, where possible, has also shown to be an effective tool for preventing infections, including those that can be resistant in the community", says CDC. 

These germs are public health threats that require prompt and sustained action.
(Report on antibiotic resistance threats in the US, 2019)

Antibiotic resistance - the ability of germs (bacteria, fungi) to defeat the drugs designed to kill them - is one of the greatest global public health challenges. “Antibiotics are one of our most powerful tools for fighting life-threatening infections. Their discovery has transformed human and animal health. Unfortunately, we now live in an era when people around the world, including Americans, are dying from untreatable infections because of the emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance”, says the CDC report.

Report on antibiotic resistance threats in the US, 2019.

According to experts, antibiotics save lives, but any time antibiotics are used - in people, animals, or crops - they can cause side effects and can contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic-resistant germs can also share their ability to become resistant to other germs that have not been exposed to antibiotics.

Reliance on antibiotics alone will not fix this problem, says CDC.

The CDC says that it is concerned about rising resistant infections in the community. For example, infections associated with drug-resistant gonorrhea and extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL)-producing Enterobacteriaceae have increased since 2000. The report says the emergence and spread of new forms of resistance is also alarming. 

“Rising infections in the community puts more people at risk and makes spread more difficult to identify and contain - and threatens the progress made to protect patients in healthcare. Rapid detection and prevention strategies have helped protect people from two community-associated germs (that is, drug-resistant tuberculosis, drug-resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae), but a stronger focus and interventions are needed”, says the study.

The CDC report lists 18 antibiotic-resistant bacteria and fungi into three categories based on the level of concern to human health -- urgent, serious, and concerning. (Getty Images)

Since the 2013 report, the ranking of three germs has shifted. While C. auris - not there in the 2013 report - has been listed as urgent in 2019, Carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter, which was listed as serious in 2013, is listed in the current report as urgent. Similarly, Vancomycin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (VRSA), listed as concerning in 2013, has been removed as a threat in 2019. 

The experts call for more efforts to address antibiotic resistance. “While the development of new treatments is one of these key actions, such investments must be coupled with dedicated efforts toward preventing infections in the first place, slowing the development of resistance through better antibiotic use, and stopping the spread of resistance when it does develop to protect American lives now and in the future”, say experts.

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