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A New Report Suggests We Should Be More Worried About Drug-Resistant Bacteria Than Cancer

The UK's ​​Review on Antimicrobial Resistance says antibiotic-resistant bacteria are spreading so fast that untreatable infections might be more likely to kill any given person than cancer in 2050.

by Mike Pearl
12 December 2014, 6:25pm

Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus. Photo via public domain

​Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are slated to become a more common cause of death than cancer by 2050 worldwide, according to a new study sponsored by the British government. 

"Antimicrobial Resistance: Tackling a Crisis for the Health and Wealth of Nations"was issued by the ​​Review on Antimicrobial Resistance on Thursday. It combines data from two models that mostly concern stats on E. coli, malaria, and TB infections. It also notes that areas with high malaria, HIV, and TB rates are likely to suffer the most from the effects of these bacteria. India, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Russia are probably the countries most at risk, the report said.

According to a statement from Jim O'Neill, the economist who is chairing the review, "Drug-resistant infections already kill hundreds of thousands a year globally, and by 2050 that figure could be more than 10 million." Cancer killed 8.2 million people in 2012, the most recent year with complete data. It's worth noting that cancer deaths, at least in the United States, have declined by 20 percent since 1991 ​according to the American Cancer Society.

Governmental bodies around the world are increasingly expressing concern about the growing threat of infections caused by bacteria that have adapted to the drugs that used to kill them. The World Health Organization's 2014 report on the matter warned of the need to "stay ahead of emerging resistance," and said that "every country and individual needs to do more."

The Centers for Disease Control's online fact sheet on antibiotic resistance emphasizes that doctors should prescribe drugs only when absolutely necessary. But in the US, 80 percent of antibiotics are being used on farm animals, according to Reuters, and many believe that's the root of the problem.

Regulating agriculture's use of antibiotics has been an uphill battle so far, with government measures like last year's GFI #213, based on the FDA's Strategy on Antimicrobial Resistance, falling seriously short, according to critics. The consumer watchdog group Food and Water Watch claimed that the measure did little if anything to curb the excessive use of antibiotics, thanks to generous loopholes that allow antibiotics to be used in schemes aimed at fattening animals faster. 

The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) is a proposed alternative to the FDA's regulations, explicitly designed to "end the routine use of antibiotics on healthy animals and curb the growing threat of superbugs." So far, legislatures haven't been kind to such aggressive bills.

In the UK, the same body that commissioned the "Antimicrobial Resistance" study is set to release its own recommendations in the summer of 2016.

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