A global review conducted by the U.K. government has concluded that if current trends persist, antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” will be killing more people per year than cancer by the year 2050 and costing as much as $100 trillion in health expenses between now and then.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, antibiotic-resistant infections could potentially cause upwards toward 10 million unnecessary deaths per year within the next quarter century. The culprit in creating these “superbugs” is the reckless overprescription of antibiotics to humans and livestock.
The global study was commissioned by British Prime Minister David Cameron in July and led by former Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill, who said that the world could lose the annual equivalent of the United Kingdom’s total economic output to fighting and treating drug-resistant germs.
“This is a significant global problem, perhaps on the same dimension as climate change,” O’Neill said. “Trying to solve it is a bit like climate change. The cost of stopping the problem is significantly lower than the cost of not stopping the problem.”
Scientists say that human beings have forced bacteria to rapidly evolve through overuse of antibiotics in people and livestock and the widespread use of antibacterial products. When patients are given antibiotics for viral infections or when they are properly prescribed antibiotics but do not finish the course of medication, the bacteria that survive in their bodies acquire resistance to those medicines.
The same thing happens on factory farms where healthy livestock are fed an array of antibiotics, fattening agents, hormones and other chemicals to force them to grow faster and to stop the infections that occur when animals are kept too close together in unnaturally high numbers.
As of 2012, 15 different strains of Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriacea (CRE) were rampant in U.S. hospitals. CRE can cause pneumonia and infections in the kidneys, bladder, intestines and bloodstream.
The New York Times reported last week that in India, nearly 60,000 babies died shortly after birth in 2013 because they were born infected with untreatable bacterial infections.
“Five years ago, we almost never saw these kinds of infections,” said Dr. Neelam Kler of New Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital to the Times. “Now, close to 100 percent of the babies referred to us have multidrug resistant infections. It’s scary.”
Drug resistant infections currently account for around 700,000 deaths worldwide each year. Scientists say that the developing world is at most risk, but that by 2050, Europe and Latin America can expect 400,000 deaths per year and the U.S. is projected to have around 300,000 on its own.
While doctors in Europe and the U.S. have rapidly decreased the amount of antibiotics they prescribe, use of the drugs is currently exploding in the developing world where infection treatment often has to stand in for proper hygiene and medical care.
According to the Times, “Global sales of antibiotics for human consumption rose 36 percent from 2000 to 2010, with Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa accounting for 76 percent of that increase. In India, much of that growth has been driven by private doctors who deliver about 90 percent of care here and are often poorly trained. Much of these doctors’ income comes from drug sales.”