Our last line of defense against antibiotic-resistant bacteria is beginning to fail, says ECDC

While the incidence of antibiotic-resistant MRSA bacteria, seen here, is down, the news isn't so good with other bugs(Credit: iLexx/Depositphotos)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US, every year about two million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to anything we can throw at them and of those, at least 23,000 die. Now the European equivalent to the CDC, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has just reported on how well the EU is doing in the battle to keep deadly bugs at bay. And the news isn't great.

The announcement was released to coincide with today's marking of the 9th annual European Antibiotic Awareness Day, an effort to bring awareness to the fact that overprescribing antibiotics can create superbugs that we are powerless to fight.

While the report found an overall increase of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the ECDC says that of particular concern was the fact that the average percentage of carbapenem resistance in Klebsiella pneumoniae increased from 6.2 percent in 2012 to 8.1 percent in 2015. K. pneumoniae is an opportunistic infection that often attacks people hospitalized for other conditions and "can cause different types of healthcare-associated infections, including pneumonia, bloodstream infections, wound or surgical site infections, and meningitis, according to the CDC.

Carbapenems are a class of antibiotics used to attack bacteria that have become resistant to other more common antibiotics. The fact that they are now failing in greater number is a cause for concern.

"Antibiotic resistance is one of the most pressing public health issues of our time," said Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. "If we don't tackle it, we can go back to a time when even the simplest medical operations were not possible, and organ transplants, cancer chemotherapy or intensive care even less so."

Not all of the news was dire, however. ECDC Acting Director, Dr. Andrea Ammon said that antibiotic consumption was down in six countries. Also, the percentage of Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) that was resistant to the antibiotic meticillin decreased significantly between 2012 and 2015, says the agency, which is taking new initiatives to spread the word about antibiotic resistance.

"The European Commission will launch a new action plan next year so that we can, together with our partners in the EU Member States and internationally, continue to ensure that the prevention and control of antibiotic resistance is strengthened within a one-health approach," said Andriukaitis.

In addition to that initiative, the ECDC is hosting a global Twitter conversation today using the hashtags #AntibioticResistance and #EAAD2016. It also has posted today's presentation entitled "European Antibiotic Awareness Day: The future is now," on its YouTube channel.

If you'd like to add even more worry to your day, you can also get a look at antibiotic resistance across the globe by germ and drug on the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy's interactive map.

Source: ECDC

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