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Analysis from 204 countries and territories estimated that almost 1.3 million people lost their lives as a direct result of the mainly bacterial infections.
Experts warned hundreds of thousands of deaths from common, previously treatable infections such as pneumonia and sepsis were now occurring because the bacteria that cause them have become resistant to treatment.
Study co-author Professor Chris Murray, of the University of Washington in the US, said: “These new data reveal the true scale of antimicrobial resistance worldwide, and are a clear signal that we must act now to combat the threat.
“Previous estimates had predicted 10 million annual deaths from antimicrobial resistance by 2050, but we now know for certain that we are already far closer to that figure than we thought.”
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) arises when organisms that cause infection – including bacteria, viruses and fungi – evolve to survive treatments. It can be accelerated by the misuse of medicines.
A Global Research on Antimicrobial Resistance report found there were 4.95 million deaths associated with AMR. The larger figure includes cases where a drug-resistant infection was linked to the deaths but may not have been the direct cause.
Drug resistance in lower respiratory infections such as pneumonia had the greatest impact, causing more than 400,000 deaths. Drug resistance in bloodstream infections caused 370,000 deaths. In comparison, HIV/Aids and malaria caused around 860,000 and 640,000 deaths in 2019.
Deaths were highest in western sub-SaharanAfrica and lowest in Australasia. Globally, one in five deaths of children under five was attributed to AMR.
Dr Gwen Knight, co-director of the Antimicrobial Resistance Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “These estimates are a timely reminder that Covid-19 is not the only major public health challenge we are facing – AMR is the silent pandemic.
“AMR is contributing substantially to deaths across a range of infections – not just those we typically think of as serious, like pneumonia and sepsis, but also illnesses like a urinary tract infection or an infected wound.”
The findings were published in The Lancet journal.
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MENINGITIS CASES UP
STUDENTS and parents were urged to watch out for meningitis as cases rose after lockdown.
The spike in meningitis B has particularly hit colleges, the UK Health Security Agency reported.
Its study says after Covid curbs were lifted in England last July a “sharp” rise among young adults “exceeded pre-pandemic levels”.
Cases stayed low in the summer but when in-person learning resumed in September they began to increase.
Study co-author Prof Ray Borrow said “students and parents need to be aware of the early signs” and seek help.
These include: fever with cold hands, vomiting, confusion, blotchy skin or rash and seizures.
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