Third Leading Cause of Death in the World is Not What You Think, According to New Study

Antibiotic resistance is sometimes seen as a “future concern,” but new statistics show it harms many more people than you may think.

According to the latest estimates, bacterial antimicrobial resistance caused 4.95 million deaths in 2019, making it the third-highest cause of mortality globally.

Bacteria-killing drugs are unquestionably one of humanity’s most noteworthy discoveries.

We no longer have to worry about mortality from rose bush scrapes or gonorrhea after Alexander Fleming identified antibacterial activity in the fungus Penicillium in 1928.

Antibiotics have saved millions upon millions of lives globally in the decades afterward.

Now Antibiotic Resistance Killing More People Than HIV/AIDS or Malaria

But, since antibiotics are a naturally developed biological weapon for germs, bacteria have been building resistance to them long before humanity began using them.

Using the same medications repeatedly allows bacteria to adapt to them even quicker, resulting in a growing number of diseases that no longer respond to typical (or even last-resort) treatments.

Unfortunately, the more bacterial species that do not react to medicines, the more individuals will fall victim to resistant illnesses — and experts are warning that antimicrobial resistance is already killing more people each year than HIV/AIDS or malaria.

Chris Murray, a health economist at the University of Washington who co-authored the new study, stated that new statistics expose the full scope of antimicrobial resistance globally and are a strong indication that we must act immediately to tackle the danger.

“Previous estimates had predicted 10 million annual deaths from antimicrobial resistance by 2050, but we now know for certain that we are already far closer to that figure than we thought. We need to leverage this data to course-correct action and drive innovation if we want to stay ahead in the race against antimicrobial resistance.”

The researchers examined data from 204 countries on 23 distinct bacterial species (including E. coli, S. pneumonia, and S. aureus) and 88 microbe-drug combinations.

This resulted in 471 million infection reports, which they then used to develop statistical models to predict the extent of antibiotic resistance.

The researchers investigated two alternative situations:

First, all drug-resistant illnesses were substituted with no infections, which the authors stated reflects the number of fatalities caused by antimicrobial resistance.

In the second scenario, they substituted all drug-resistant diseases with drug-susceptible infections, resulting in an estimate of antimicrobial resistance-related mortality.

Grim Numbers

The researchers estimated that in 2019, 4.95 million fatalities were connected with drug-resistant bacterial illnesses, with 1.27 million deaths directly caused by antimicrobial resistance — a massive burden in all parts of the globe, but especially in low- and middle-income nations.

According to their statistics, only stroke and heart disease killed more people that year than antimicrobial resistance.

The authors state that this is the first time such a worldwide estimate has been performed to the best of their knowledge.

There are certain limits to their modeling since there are gaps in data from various regions of the globe and significant problems in carrying out antimicrobial resistance monitoring.

But the conclusion is unmistakable: we have a worldwide severe health crisis.

The authors added antimicrobial resistance has long been recognized as a problem, and the recommendations to combat antimicrobial resistance are:

  • Raising public awareness.
  • Improving surveillance.
  • Improving diagnostics, more rational antibiotic use.
  • Access to clean water and sanitation.
  • Investing in new antimicrobials and vaccines.

However, the response to recommendations has been patchy and inconsistent, resulting in worldwide disparities in antibiotic resistance.

They added the rate of innovation has been extraordinarily sluggish, and only one of the six significant pathogens reported in the research has a vaccine.

The therapeutic pipeline for antibiotics is insufficient to combat the genesis and spread of antimicrobial resistance.

The authors of both the editorial and the original research encourage authorities to prioritize antibiotic resistance.

They warn that we will witness many more unnecessary fatalities in the coming years if quick action is not taken.

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