WASHINGTON • Germs that are resistant to drugs sicken about three million people every year in the United States and kill about 35,000, representing a much larger public health threat than previously understood, according to a long-awaited report released on Wednesday by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new estimates show that, on average, someone in the US gets an antibiotic-resistant infection every 11 seconds, and every 15 minutes, someone dies.
Bacteria, fungi and other germs that have developed a resistance to antibiotics and other drugs pose one of the gravest public health challenges. Scientists, doctors and public health officials have warned of this threat for decades, and the new report reveals the top dangers and troubling trends.
More pathogens are developing new ways of fending off drugs designed to kill them, and infections are spreading more widely outside hospitals. No new classes of antibiotics have been introduced in more than three decades.
The report highlighted some successes. Hospitals have improved their methods for tracking and slowing the spread of resistant germs, and deaths from superbug infections have decreased by nearly 30 per cent since 2013.
Experts say everyone can help control many of these pathogens by practising basic prevention: good hand hygiene, vaccination, safe food handling and safe sex.
In addition to germs that have evolved drug resistance, the report included a dangerous infection that is linked to antibiotic use: Clostridioides difficile (C. diff).
It can cause deadly diarrhoea when antibiotics kill beneficial bacteria in the digestive system that normally keep it under control.
The report details the toll that 18 pathogens are taking on humans.
Five germs account for the most urgent threats. Three are long-recognised dangers: C. diff, drug-resistant gonorrhoea and carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae. They are resistant to all or nearly all antibiotics; they kill up to half of patients who get bloodstream infections from them; and the bacteria can transfer their antibiotic resistance to other related bacteria, potentially making the other bacteria untreatable.
Two new ones were added to the urgent category: a deadly superbug yeast called Candida auris which has alarmed health officials around the world; and a family of bacteria, ESBL-producing enterobacteriaceae, which has developed resistance to nearly all antibiotics.
Bacteria are constantly evolving to fend off the drugs used to kill them. As they mutate, some develop the ability to fight off different antibiotics and survive to multiply and spread resistance. The more antibiotics are used in healthcare and agriculture, the less effective they become.
Overuse of antibiotics is a likely reason for the dramatic rise in resistant infections, the report said.
Nearly a third of antibiotics prescribed in doctors' offices, emergency rooms and hospital-based clinics in the US are not needed, according to a 2016 study.
"The fact that we're seeing some of the greatest increases among resistant infections that are acquired outside of the hospital - combined with data we already have showing that approximately one in three outpatient prescriptions is completely unnecessary - underscores the need for improved antibiotic use in doctors' offices and other non-hospital settings," said Dr David Hyun, who researches and develops strategies for the Antibiotic Resistance Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts.