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Understand  –  Why should I care?

Resistant bacteria cause treatment failures

Resistant bacteria already cause many infections worldwide. There are usually still functioning antibiotics available, but some bacterial infections are increasingly difficult to treat, and death tolls are rising.

Antibiotic resistant bacteria, conservatively calculated, already cause more than 500,000 deaths every year (data in references used to extrapolate the worldwide burden of resistance).

Examples of the impact of antibiotic resistant bacteria:

  • Reports from around the world describe emergence of Gram-negative bacteria that are resistant to all or nearly all antibiotics; infections with these bacteria are often associated with increased hospital stays and mortality rates. Vulnerable populations such as preterm babies and young children are especially at risk.
  • Estimates suggest that resistant bacteria are responsible for the deaths of 214,000 newborns with blood stream infection each year.
  • In a study from Pakistan, 37 of 78 newborns with Acinetobacter infection died. 71% of the bacteria were resistant to all antibiotics except one.
  • Already we cannot safely treat multidrug-resistant strains of Salmonella typhi, the cause for typhoid fever, which is a major killer of children in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease that can have severe consequences such as infertility. Resistance to last-line antibiotics has already developed, and some cases are close to untreatable. With 106 million new cases/year, the consequences of total resistance would be devastating.
  • Tuberculosis is a serious bacterial infection typically affecting the lungs. Around 1.5 million people died of the disease in 2014, and it ranks as a leading cause of death worldwide together with HIV. Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis is now on the rise: treatment options are less effective, more often associated with side effects, and can ultimately fail.

Modern medicine under threat

Many modern health care interventions such as cancer therapy, different types of surgeries and organ transplants depend on antibiotics to prevent and cure infections. Since bacteria and other microorganisms are everywhere around us as well as in and on the body, the risk of infection during surgery or when using treatments that affects our immune system is high. Without functioning antibiotics these procedures would be very risky. The entire modern health care system currently relies on antibiotics, and without these drugs, modern medicine as we know it today would not function.

  • Estimations suggest that 38-51% of bacteria causing infections at surgical sites and 26% of chemotherapy-related bacterial infections in the US are resistant to standard antibiotic prophylaxis. A 30% reduction in antibiotic efficacy would lead to 120,000 additional infections each year, and 6300 deaths.
  • Infections are common in organ transplant patients. A study of transplant patients infected with multidrug-resistant bacteria reported mortality rates of more than 70%.

Read about what you can do to contribute in the work to stop the spread of antibiotic resistance here What can I do?

Selected Resources

Resource Description
Get the Facts: Antibiotics in Modern Medicine Fact sheets describing the importance of antibiotics for different patient groups: Cancer patients, cystic fibrosis patients, diabetes patients, joint replacement patients, pre-term babies and patients with urinary tract infections (by Antibiotic Action).
Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria: 10 of the Worst Information portal providing an overview of 10 dangerous and often antibiotic resistant bacteria – the diseases they cause, characteristics and resistance levels.
Faces of Antimicrobial Resistance. Report. A collection of real-life stories of how antibiotic resistance has affected American people by the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
Antimicrobial resistance – The biggest threat to cancer treatment Information portal describing the consequences of antibiotic resistance for cancer patients, developed by the Norwegian Cancer Society.

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