They don’t get half the attention they deserve. Three dozen common bacteria caused one in eight deaths worldwide in 2019 and just one, staphylococcus aureus, is responsible for more than a million deaths annually. All this, in a context in which bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics.
It is the first time that such compelling data detailing the burden on health of bacterial infections has been put on the table. It has been achieved by an international coalition that published last Monday, November 21 the results of their investigations in the prestigious scientific journal ‘The Lancet’, with the hope that they will be an alarm signal for the scientific community and world authorities.
Of the 13.7 million deaths caused by various infections worldwide, there are 7.7 – more than half – caused by a group of 33 common bacteria, according to data from 2019. That makes this grouping the second cause of death worldwide, second only to heart disease.
All this, without counting the bacteria that causes tuberculosis and that claimed 1.9 million lives in the same year.
In particular, there is a leading quintet: the Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Klebsiella pneumoniae Y Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Between the five, they are responsible for more than 30% of these 7.7 million deaths and more than half of the infections. Staphylococcus aureus alone, a bacterium that can cause infections in various organs of the body, is responsible for the death of more than a million people each year.
Antonio Juárez, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Barcelona, reflected in ‘Science Media Center‘ from Spain: “This study allows us to reflect on some current issues about the consideration that our society gives to infections and the resources dedicated to combating some of them. For example, only the first two pathogens (S.aureus Y E.coli) caused many more deaths than AIDS in 2019 (864,000), but the economic resources devoted to fighting the latter disease were almost 50 times higher than those devoted to controlling infections by E.coli.”
All of this adds to the problem of microbial resistance to antibiotics. For decades, bacteria have developed ways to protect themselves from the treatments that are meant to fight them, and more and more infections are developing into serious conditions as a result.
Yet despite the urgency of the problem, there is almost no research on new antibiotics that could circumvent bacterial resistance. According to the World Health Organization, there are only 43 antibiotics in clinical trials against more than 5,000 trials of cancer treatments.
Among other reasons, it is hidden that developing new antibiotics is unprofitable: they are treatments that, after a week of pills, are no longer necessary. Something very different from chronic diseases.
Currently, according to the World Health Organization, there are only 43 antibiotics in clinical trials, while there are more than 5,000 new cancer treatments being studied.
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