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Report: Antibiotic-resistant Bacteria Threaten Global Physical & Financial Health

  • Jim Randle

Multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis bacteria. (Credit: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis bacteria. (Credit: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

The growing number of "superbug" infections could push 28 million people into extreme poverty, hurt the economy as badly at the 2008 financial crisis, make health care costs soar, damage livestock production and cost millions of human lives by 2050 unless there is prompt, effective and sustained action.

The warnings Monday come from a World Bank report on the costs of the rising tide of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, that experts say grow from the misuse and overuse of antimicrobial drugs. Global leaders are set to discuss the threat posed by antimicrobial resistance, also called "AMR," this week in New York.

Antibiotics can treat bacterial infections but have no effect on diseases caused by viruses. Patients often pressure doctors to prescribe antibiotics for illnesses where antibiotics provide no benefit. Antibiotics are also fed, by the ton, to livestock in order to help them grow more quickly.

Whenever an antibiotic is used, it kills most, but not all, bacteria. The surviving bacteria are antibiotic-resistant and now have no competition for food or space. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria, dubbed "superbugs" can now quickly reproduce and become the dominant strain of this particularly bacteria. That means an antibiotic that was once effective at treating a particular infection now has little impact. Over time, more and more antibiotics have been worn out in this fashion, and the world could now face a future where diseases that were once easily treated are now serious, expensive and sometimes deadly problems.

Various experts say the problem is complex and solutions could include better better farming practices as well as diagnostic tests to help doctors avoid inappropriately prescribing antibiotics.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls antibiotic resistance one of the world's "most pressing public health problems."