Treatment-resistant bacterial and viral infections have been hailed as one of the most urgent health issues of our times, driven, in part, by misuse and over-prescription of antibiotic medications, as well as a lack of new drug development by pharmaceutical companies due to reduced profit margins.
In 2016, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had found that up to 2 million people contract antibiotic-resistant infections every year and 23,000 die from resulting complications.
According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, the trend has been steadily on the rise for many years and is now beginning to reach a truly dangerous level.
“Infections with Gram-negative enteric bacilli are becoming increasingly difficult to treat; considering the global burden of these antimicrobial-resistant organisms, interventions to curtail or even reverse this trend are needed urgently,” wrote the authors.
The study analysed data from 94,000 patients under the age of 18 (although the average age of the subjects was only 4.1 years) who were diagnosed with bacterial infections at 48 children’s hospitals across the United States.
In 2007, the share of drug-resistant bacterial infections was 0.2 percent, rising to 1.5 percent by 2015. While the absolute risk is still relatively low, it clearly points to a massive surge – which amounts to a seven-fold (700%) increase – over the span of only 8 years.
The situation in Europe, Asia and Latin America is even worse because, unlike in the United States, no laws can prohibit local children from being treated with antibiotics commonly available to adults.
Unsurprisingly, children with other, concurrent health conditions were even more likely to suffer from difficult-to-treat infections than their healthier counterparts.
However, the study has also found higher incidence of multidrug-resistant infection in children who are older and/or live in the West – a curious result that’s not yet been explained.
“Escalating antibiotic resistance limits our treatment options, worsens clinical results, and is a growing global public health crisis. What’s more, the development of new antibacterial drugs, especially ones appropriate for children, remains essentially stagnant,” said study lead author Sharon B. Meropol in press release for the University.
The study was published in the Journal of the Paediatric Infections Diseases Society.