Superbugs are killing about 33,000 people in Europe every year, according to a new report.
The “burden of infection” – measured in the number of cases, attributable deaths and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) – of these superbugs is equivalent to that of flu, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS combined, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which conducted the research.
These deaths come as a “direct consequence of an infection due to bacteria resistant to antibiotics,” according to the authors of the report, published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases on Monday.
Scientists believe that around 70% of bacteria that cause infection are already resistant to at least one antibiotic that would otherwise be used to combat it. This has led to the development of superbugs – bacteria that have become resistant to the main antibiotics used against them – which present a major threat to global healthcare.
The study focused on five types of infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the European Union and in the European Economic Area.
Three quarters of those affected are due to healthcare associated infections – in other words, the people fell ill with the disease while being treated in a medical facility. Therefore scientists believe the impact of these superbugs can be dramatically reduced through “adequate infection prevention and control measures, as well as antibiotic stewardship,” according to the report.
Geographically, the situation was found to be worst in Italy and Greece, with about a third of the recorded deaths occurring in Italy.
Researchers said: “Even if one considers its large and ageing population, it is notable that about a third of the deaths due to infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the EU and EEA were in Italy.”
The research found that the victims included people of all ages, though infants and the elderly proved to be the most vulnerable to infection.
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Almost two in five cases are caused by bacteria that are resistant to even the strongest antibiotics. The phenomenon “is worrying because these antibiotics are the last treatment options available,” the ECDC said in a statement. It added: “When these are no longer effective, it is extremely difficult or, in many cases, impossible to treat infections.”