Dangerous “superbugs” that have become resistant to our most sophisticated antibiotics are deadlier than originally thought, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Each year, more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur across the United States, causing more than 35,000 deaths, the landmark report (pdf) found. That’s one death as a result of these infections about every 15 minutes, according to the CDC.
The report examined bacteria and fungi from the electronic health records of about 700 U.S. hospitals, and categorized 21 different infections into lists titled “urgent threats,” “serious threats,” “concerning threats,” and “watch list.”
“Despite significant progress, this threat remains our enemy,” Dr. Robert Redfield, CDC Director, said during a news conference, reported Live Science.
New @CDCgov Report: The burden of #AntibioticResistance is greater than previously thought. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria & fungi cause more than 2.8 million infections & 35,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Read the report: https://t.co/s7kIxD1wBo #CDCARthreats pic.twitter.com/2ODSg3zEqn
— Eric D. Hargan (@DepSecHargan) November 13, 2019
“Superbugs,” or Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, known as CRE, are a family of germs that are found normally in the stomach but have become resistant to a type of antibiotics that include penicillin and amoxicillin.
The report placed five antibiotic-resistant germs on the CDC “urgent threat” list—up two from its previous list in its 2013 report, which initially estimated 23,000 annual deaths caused by 2 million drug-resistant infections.
The report listed a fungus named Candida auris as one of the most deadly microbes on its urgent threat list.
Michael Craig, a senior adviser for the CDC Antibiotic Resistance Coordination and Strategy Unit, told reporters during a news conference on Nov. 13 that the CDC was not aware of the fungus in 2013.
“It is a pathogen that we didn’t even know about when we wrote our last report in 2013, and since then, it’s circumvented the globe,” he said.
Redfield added that some infections appear to be resistant to all medications designed to treat it, killing one in five of those infected with the fungus.
Another new bacterium on the list of deadliest microbes is Acinetobacter, estimated to have caused 700 deaths from 8,500 antibiotic-resistant infections in the United States in 2017, according to the CDC.
According to the recent findings, 12,800 deaths in 2017 were also linked to bacteria called Clostridioides difficile, cases of which, according to the CDC, can be deadly, and occur either while taking antibiotics or shortly afterwards.
The agency added that it most likely underestimated the deaths caused by antibiotic-resistant infections in its 2013 report, placing its updated figure to an estimated 44,000 deaths. The CDC said while the number of infections appear to be on the rise, the actual number of deaths has likely declined since then.
Officials credit hospitals for using antibiotics more judiciously, and doing more to isolate patients with resistant infections. They also believe government funding for laboratories has helped investigators labs more quickly spot drug-resistant germs and take steps against them.
Still, CDC officials said there’s hardly cause for celebration.
“There are still way too many people dying,” Craig said. “We have a long way to go before we can feel we can even get ahead of this.”
To prevent the spread of infections, the CDC recommended only taking antibiotics when necessary and prescribed, maintaining good hygiene, and protecting against certain infections by getting the necessary vaccinations to decrease antibiotic use.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.