The Threat of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Deaths Quantified

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) attributed 23,000 U.S. deaths per year to illness from antibiotic-resistant bacteria in a recently published report titled “Antibiotic resistance threats in the United States, 2013. Generally, two million Americans fall ill from antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year. The CDC study is the first quantification by federal health officials of the public health threat from antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Conservative Estimate

The number of deaths is substantially lower than previous estimates, in part because the CDC researchers did not include cases in which a drug-resistant infection was present but not necessarily the cause of death. Initial predictions had estimated that the number of deaths could be as high as 100,000 per year. The CDC acknowledged that its study researchers were instructed to be conservative and to base their calculations only on deaths that were a direct result of a drug-resistant bacterial infection in order to minimize subjectivity. Health researchers and professionals seem to be in agreement that the study provided a solid baseline for further investigation.

In addition to the numbers presented above, the CDC reported that almost 250,000 people each year require hospital care for Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) infections. In most of these infections, the use of antibiotics was a major contributing factor leading to the illness. At least 14,000 people die each year in the United States from these preventable infections. The total economic cost of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection impact to the U.S. economy has been difficult to calculate. Estimates vary but have ranged as high as $20 billion in excess direct healthcare costs, with additional costs to the U.S. for lost productivity as high as $35 billion a year.

Prioritizing the Threats

In the report, the CDC for the first time prioritized bacteria into one of three threat categories: urgent, serious, and concerning. The report also included information about what states, communities, doctors, nurses, patients, and CDC can do to combat antibiotic resistance. The agency noted that preventing the spread of antibiotic resistance could only be achieved with widespread engagement, especially among leaders in clinical medicine, healthcare leadership, agriculture, and public health. Although some people are at greater risk than others, no one can completely avoid the risk of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection.

According to the CDC, up to 50 percent of all the antibiotics prescribed for people are not needed or are not optimally effective as prescribed. Antibiotics are also commonly used in food animals to prevent, control, and treat disease, and to promote the growth of food-producing animals. The agency stressed that the use of antibiotics for promoting growth is not necessary, and the practice should be phased out, noting that recent guidance from the FDA describes a pathway toward this goal.
Infectious disease health professionals have long cautioned about the growing antibiotic resistance that threatens to return society to a time when people died from ordinary infections.