News and Opinions  –  2022

7.7 million people die from bacterial infections every year

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For the first time, global comprehensive estimates of the burden of bacterial infections have been published. In 2019, 7.7 million deaths around the world were found to be linked to infections caused by 33 types of bacteria. That equals 1 in 8 of all global deaths. It also makes bacterial infections the second largest cause of death globally, after ischemic heart disease only. Bacterial infections have long been an underestimated cause of global health burden, calling for urgent strengthening of mitigation strategies. The study puts in spotlight the crucial importance of access to treatment with effective antibiotics for all health systems.

Pathogenic bacteria
33 different bacteria claim 7,7 million lives every year. Photo: Shutterstock

A new study has looked at 33 types of bacteria across 11 infectious syndromes to estimate burden of bacterial infections. The study was carried out by the Global Burden of Disease 2019 Antimicrobial Resistance collaborators, led by Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and University of Oxford, and published in the Lancet. Among the data sources were more than 343 million individual records or bacterial isolates. The study presents, for the first time, global comprehensive estimates of the burden of bacterial infections – highlighting the impact of these infections .

Key facts from the study

  • 7.7 million deaths around the world were found linked to bacterial infection. That is 13.6%, or 1 in 8, of all global deaths.
  • This makes bacterial infections the second-leading cause of death globally.
  • More than half of these deaths are caused by only five types of bacteria:
    – Staphylococcus aureus
    – Escherichia coli
    – Streptococcus pneumoniae
    – Klebsiella pneumoniae
    – Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Three types of infections were responsible for more than 75% of the deaths:
    – Lower respiratory infections (such as pneumonia)
    – Bloodstream infections
    – Peritoneal and intra-abdominal infections
  • There are large differences in burden as well as distribution of bacterial pathogens across regions. Mortality rate was highest in sub-Saharan Africa, with 230 deaths per 100,000 population, and lowest in high-income countries at 52 deaths per 100,000 population.

Important conclusions from the study

For all 33 bacteria, effective antibiotics exist as treatment, yet we see disproportionally high mortality rates in low-and middle-income countries. As effective antimicrobials exist for all 33 of the investigated bacteria, the authors suggest that this might be attributable to inadequate access to effective antimicrobials, weak health systems and insufficient prevention programs.

The authors further highlight that although bacterial pathogens cause a substantial health burden, they are not a major focus of any global public health initiatives. They conclude that bacterial infections should be an urgent priority for intervention within the global health community, through for example:

  • Building stronger health systems with more robust diagnostic infrastructure
  • Implementing appropriate infection control and antimicrobial stewardship measures
  • Infection prevention is the foundation to reducing the burden of infections – essential prevention strategies are key and should include:
    – improved access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities
    – Increased rates of vaccination, new vaccine development
  • Improved access to the appropriate antibiotics
  • A strategic approach and investments in developing new antibiotics are essential – to mitigate antibiotic resistance and bacterial infections in general.






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