The Coming Superbug Attack: Deaths From Antibiotic-Resistant Infections To Outpace Cancer Deaths By 2050
O, antibiotics, how we loved thee. And how we mourn thee.
There was a time when we thought there was nothing they couldn’t do: people would demand them for head colds–despite the fact that rhinovirus is unaffected by them–and doctors handed them out like candy.
But the sad fact is in our demand for antibiotics, we have pretty much loved them to death. By overusing them and by doctors over-prescribing antibiotics, we have used up their usefulness–and made things much worse with the creation of “superbugs,” antibiotic resistant strains of various types of infections.
And it’s even worse than you thought. The problem is so severe that some are predicting that deaths from infections that are untreatable due to antimicrobial resistance could outpace deaths from cancer in just a few decades.
UK chief finance minister Chancellor George Osborne says that antimicrobial resistance may be so bad by 2050 that it could claim the lives of as many as 10 million people a year around the world, unless global action is taken. By way of comparison, the World Heath Organization estimates that 8.2 million people die annually from cancer.
Speaking at the International Monetary Fund meeting in Washington, Osborne implored world leaders and industry to find ways to work together to create new solutions to a dangerous new problem.
“We have to dramatically shift incentives for pharmaceutical companies and others to create a long-term solution to this problem,” he said in a press statement, “with new rewards, funded globally, that support the development of new antibiotics and ensure access to antibiotics in the developing world.”
Tom Frieden, head of the CDC concurs. At a recent National Press Club event, he said, “We talk about a pre-antibiotic era and the antibiotic era. If we’re not careful, we will soon be in a post-antibiotic era. And in fact for some patients and some pathogens, we’re already there.”
Already such infections are proving troublesome–and at times deadly. In the US alone some 2 million people suffering from such infections every year, resulting in 23,000 deaths.
But overprescribing and patient demand are not the only factors driving the rise of the antibiotic resistant superbugs. The factory farming industry is a huge abuser of antibiotics, and the superbug uprising may be yet another way all of humanity is paying for their greed.
“Right now, 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the US are used for industrial agriculture,” said Wenonah Hauter of Food & Water Watch, a consumer rights NGO. “And most of these drugs are routinely fed to animals to make them grow faster and compensate for filthy conditions. This is done to help the meat industry execute on its highly consolidated business model for profit. And the American public pays through antibiotic-resistant infections.”
So enjoy those cheap burgers and steaks while you can, folks. If you feel a bit of head cold coming on, why not pop few leftover amoxicillin?
And when your grandmother or your child is in the hospital with an untreatable staph infection, be sure to explain why.