Superbugs will kill 10 million a year by 2050

Healthcare experts have long warned drug-resistant superbugs are a "looming global threat," but left unchecked, they may kill someone every three seconds by 2050, according to a new report.

The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance began in 2014 and in the meantime, antibiotic-resistant infections have already wrought havoc, causing several outbreaks linked to contaminated scopes and proving potentially more deadly than cancer, according to experts.

Models by researchers at Rand Europe and KPMG now predict the infections will kill 10 million people a year by mid-century at a cost of $100 trillion, with drug-resistant strains of malaria, tuberculosis and E. coli taking the steepest toll.

To stave off this scenario, study authors call on health leaders and policymakers to take numerous precautions, including:

  • A global campaign to raise awareness of the threat, including country-level restrictions on the sale of antibiotics without prescriptions
  • Improved hygiene to safeguard against infections, particularly among low- and middle-income nations, which must factor the threat into sanitation and water infrastructure
  • Less unnecessary microbial use in agriculture, aided by improved transparency by retailers and food producers
  • Better global monitoring of drug resistance
  • Development of both diagnostics to cut unnecessary antibiotic use and improved vaccines and alternatives

"If we don't solve the problem we are heading to the dark ages, we will have a lot of people dying," research leader Jim O'Neill told the BBC. "We have made some pretty challenging recommendations, which require everybody to get out of the comfort zone, because if we don't then we aren't going to be able to solve this problem."

While the recommendations are straightforward, the U.S. is hindered by its lack of support for the infectious disease field, according to The Atlantic. Of the 25 major medical specialties, infectious disease is one of the lowest paid and least cited by other fields. "Clearly you need scientists to do the basic science that will underpin new treatments, and you need physicians for leadership in using antimicrobials," Laura Piddock, a microbiologist at the University of Birmingham and director of Antibiotic Action, told the publication. "If you don't have that, the drugs get used by everyone."

To learn more:
- read the report (.pdf)
- here's the BBC article
- here's the Atlantic article