Antibiotic resistant superbugs 'will kill 90,000 Britons by 2050'
More than 90,000 people in Britain will die over the next three decades unless action is taken to halt the rise in antibiotic-resistant superbug infections, a report has warned.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates resistant infections could kill about 2.4 million people in Europe, North America and Australia by 2050 unless more is done to tackle the problem, which it describes as “one of the biggest threats to modern medicine”.
This includes about 1.3 million deaths in Europe and 90,000 in Britain.
Simple hygiene measures such as hand washing and more conservative prescribing of antibiotics could prevent some of the deaths, the authors said. The report said enhanced rapid testing to ensure patients are given appropriate drugs could also help overcome the looming crisis.
There are growing concerns about the increasing number of infections that have evolved resistance to firstline drugs, leaving a dwindling number of treatment options available. The problem of resistance is growing even more rapidly in low- and middleincome countries.
The report warns that southern Europe risks being particularly affected, with Italy, Greece and Portugal forecast to top the list of OECD countries with the highest mortality rates from antimicrobial resistance.
Resistance to second- and third-line antibiotics – used as backup to treat infections when common antibiotics do not work – is expected to increase over the coming decades, it says.
The report comes after health officials in England launched a campaign to try to prevent people from asking for the drugs when they do not need them.
Public Health England said antibiotics were essential for treating serious bacterial infections but the drugs were frequently being prescribed for coughs, sore throats and earache, which usually improve without the medication.
The health body’s latest campaign reminds people that if they are feeling unwell “antibiotics aren’t always needed”.
Tim Jinks, head of the Wellcome Trust’s drug-resistant infections priority programme, said: “This new OECD report offers important insight into how simple, cost-effective surveillance, prevention and control methods could save lives globally.
“Drug-resistant superbugs are on the rise worldwide and represent a fundamental threat to global health and development. This report provides yet further evidence that investing to tackle the problem now will save lives and deliver big payoffs in the future.”
A short-term investment to tackle superbugs would save lives and money, the OECD said, estimating that halting the rise of resistant infections would cost just $2 (£1.50) per person a year.
A microbiologist examining MRSA bacteria. Photograph: Rodolfo Parulan Jr/Getty Images