According to the World Health Organization (WHO), infections caused by multidrug-resistant bacteria are one of the top ten threats to public health worldwide. In 2019, these bacteria that do not respond to antibiotic treatment were present in about five million deaths and were the direct cause of 1.27 million deaths. By 2050, some estimates place these microbial resistances as the leading global cause of death, making it imperative to establish better prevention measures, limit the use of antibiotics to those cases where they are necessary to reduce the emergence of new resistances, control their veterinary use and develop new compounds.
Measuring the scale of this problem is essential to control it and know what works to combat it. This morning, at a meeting of the Spanish Society of Infectious Diseases and Clinical Microbiology (SEIMC), at the Official College of Physicians of Madrid, a study carried out by 260 researchers in 130 hospitals was presented that tries to evaluate the problem. José Miguel Cisneros, coordinator of the report, highlighted that, according to the estimates of this work, "in 2023, 23,303 people died in Spain". "The figure is twenty times higher than the number of people killed in traffic accidents," he said. The data is similar to two previous studies, conducted in 2018 and 2019.
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In total, there were more than 150,000 infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The most frequent infection was urinary tract infection, accounting for 42.7% of the total, followed by gastroenteritis (15.6%). On average, mortality from this type of infection was 15%, but the figure reached 31.3% in the case of pneumonia, which is the most lethal, and those of unknown focus, which are less numerous, but almost as deadly.
Although, as with other diseases, age is a risk factor, Cisneros stressed that "it can happen to everyone." "There are young people, without previous pathologies, who can be admitted to hospital due to trauma and can become infected and die, in some cases with a risk similar to the stage before the appearance of antibiotics," he warned.
Of these multidrug-resistant infections, nearly half were acquired during a hospital stay for other reasons. The average age of the infected people was 70.8 years and the authors of the study have calculated that these bacteria accounted for a cumulative loss of 189,535 years of life, estimating the average life expectancy of those affected, approximately eight years, on average, for each death.
To combat the problem of resistance, the SEIMC has emphasized the importance of Antibiotic Use Optimization Programs (PROA). These programs work, both in the hospital setting and in primary care, to optimize the prescription of antibiotics, to improve the prognosis of patients who need them, to minimize adverse effects and to control the emergence of resistance. The goal is to reduce consumption by 27%.
In 2016, for the fourth time in its history, the United Nations General Assembly signed a declaration to coordinate member states in the face of a health threat. In the aftermath of HIV/AIDS, Ebola and non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer, UN countries reached an agreement to combat antibiotic resistance as one of the greatest threats to modern medicine.
Until less than a century ago, a simple infection by these microorganisms, which is now cured with a week of antibiotics, could be life-threatening. The advent of these antimicrobials put an end to that possibility, but bacteria have continued to evolve and adapt to resist the drugs. The massive use of antibiotics on farms, globalization, and a lack of economic interest in developing new treatments have compounded the danger of resistant bacteria.
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