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Superbug Evolution Outpacing Antibiotic Development, U.N. Warns

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Overuse of antibiotics is leading to a worsening problem of drug-resistant bacteria and infections, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths globally each year, according to the findings of a new international report.

The Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance put together the report, “No Time to Wait: Securing the Future From Drug-Resistant Infections”, for the secretary general of the United Nations and released the findings this month, warning that widespread drug resistance is becoming a global crisis.

Antibiotics, antivirals, and antifungals are critical tools used to fight infection, but these methods are becoming ineffective because of their overuse in humans and animals, researchers warn. One recent study found that more than half of antibiotics are prescribed without an infection diagnosis.

There are high levels of antibiotic resistance reported in countries around the world at all income levels. Infections once easily treated are now becoming untreatable, such as antibiotic resistant tuberculosis and gonorrhea. Additionally, lifesaving medical procedures, like surgery, are becoming riskier due to the chance of contracting antibiotic resistance infections.

Drug resistant diseases cause nearly 700,000 deaths globally each year. More than 230,000 people die from drug resistant tuberculosis alone yearly. In the U.S., roughly 2 million Americans develop antibiotic resistant infections each year, leading to 23,000 deaths.

The report emphasizes the One Health concept which focuses on the interconnection of the health of people, animals, and the environment. This concept aims to work to focus on interconnected health to achieve optimal health for the globe.

The findings indicate the concept is especially important because six out of 10 infectious diseases found in humans are spread from animals. The interconnected nature of humans, animals, and the environment is how drug resistance worsens and spreads.

Emerging Threats

The report highlighted three urgent threats of antibiotic resistance: C. difficile (C. diff), Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), and N. gonorrhoeae.

C. diff infects more than 500,000 people yearly and leads to life-threatening cases of diarrhea and colitis. It often poses a high risk of infection for other patients. CRE is one of the most drug resistant bacteria and is typically acquired in healthcare settings. It causes nearly 9,000 infections each year leading to 600 deaths. Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease. Many strains have become nearly untreatable with antibiotics.

Other things that spread the development of drug resistance include inadequate access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene; poor infection and disease prevention; and lack of access to affordable antibiotics and vaccines.

The report warns that the number of drugs in development to combat resistant bacteria simply is not enough. To that end, the group offered five recommendations: accelerate progress of the One Health National Antimicrobial Resistance Action Plan, focus on innovating new antibiotics, collaborate for better action plans to treat disease, invest in sustainable response plans, and strengthen accountability and global governance.

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