Add news
March 2010
April 2010
May 2010June 2010July 2010
August 2010
September 2010October 2010
November 2010
December 2010
January 2011
February 2011March 2011April 2011May 2011June 2011July 2011August 2011September 2011October 2011November 2011December 2011January 2012February 2012March 2012April 2012May 2012June 2012July 2012August 2012September 2012October 2012November 2012December 2012January 2013February 2013March 2013April 2013May 2013June 2013July 2013August 2013September 2013October 2013November 2013December 2013January 2014February 2014March 2014April 2014May 2014June 2014July 2014August 2014September 2014October 2014November 2014December 2014January 2015February 2015March 2015April 2015May 2015June 2015July 2015August 2015September 2015October 2015November 2015December 2015January 2016February 2016March 2016April 2016May 2016June 2016July 2016August 2016September 2016October 2016November 2016December 2016January 2017February 2017March 2017April 2017May 2017June 2017July 2017August 2017September 2017October 2017November 2017December 2017January 2018February 2018March 2018April 2018May 2018June 2018July 2018August 2018September 2018October 2018November 2018December 2018January 2019February 2019March 2019April 2019May 2019June 2019July 2019August 2019September 2019October 2019November 2019December 2019January 2020February 2020March 2020April 2020May 2020June 2020July 2020August 2020September 2020October 2020
News Every Day |

While the world is gripped by COVID-19, another devastating health threat is building — this one from bacteria

antibiotic resistant bacteria disease pandemic 2x1
As bacteria becomes more resistant, the spread of disease is slowly growing to become a pandemic-level threat.
  • While the world focuses on defeating the coronavirus, less attention has been paid to another global threat: bacterial disease.
  • Infections from bacteria are on a slow march to become a COVID-19-level threat, experts told Insider, and growing antibiotic resistance means there are few ways to stop it.
  • The spread of the coronavirus, they said, shows how unprepared the US’s health system is to handle the growing threat of bacterial infections.
  • Many scientists are pinning their hopes on phages, a type of virus that can target and kill specific kinds of bacteria.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

While the world struggles to end the COVID-19 pandemic, experts say we're already dealing with another global infectious-disease threat.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria don't get as much attention as COVID-19, since the diseases they cause spread slowly and steadily, rather than taking the world by storm in a short period of time.

But bacteria could become a COVID-19-level threat, experts say. And it will happen in a slow march. 

According to the CDC, nearly 3 million Americans per year contract an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection. Of those, roughly 35,000 die. Globally, approximately 700,000 die from these infections every year. The World Health Organization projects that, at current rates, around 10 million people could die from antibiotic-resistant infections annually by 2050.

Because of the overprescription of antibiotics, the overuse of them in livestock, and other factors, many different kinds of bacterial infections — including strains of gonorrhea, tuberculosis, and salmonella — have become extremely hard, sometimes even impossible, to treat. That's because the tiny portion of bacteria that survive these antibiotics evolve and reproduce, developing resistance. Around the world, 230,000 die each year from antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis alone.

"It's increasingly likely that that bacterial infection will be very difficult to treat if not untreatable, and untreatable bacterial infections are bad. Untreatable bacterial infections do a lot of damage," Sarah Fortune, a professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard University, told Insider. "They kill people."

Steffanie Strathdee, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, told Insider that we're not talking about the threat nearly enough.

"Unlike COVID-19, which came along suddenly and burst on the scene, the superbug crisis has been simmering along," Strahdee said. "It's already a pandemic. It's already a global crisis, and it's getting worse under COVID."

Tom Frieden, the former CDC director and the CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, told Insider that the US government needs a more aggressive and multifaceted approach to fight what he calls "nightmare bacteria." He added that the medical community should focus in particular on how infectious disease spread through hospitals

"I have absolutely no doubt that in 20 or 40 years, we will look back at healthcare as it was implemented in 2020 and shake our heads in wonder about how they could have let so many infections spread in healthcare facilities," Frieden said. "We're just not anywhere near where we need to be in terms of infection prevention and control."

A 'dysfunctional' public-health system makes the problem hard to fix

Much of the attention and resources that would be devoted to the bacteria threat are currently directed toward trying to defeat COVID-19, Strathdee said. In that sense, the coronavirus pandemic may, perversely, be making the antibiotic-resistant bacteria problem worse.

In July, the WHO called for more careful use of antibiotics among COVID-19 patients to help curb the threat of antibiotic resistance. A May review found that among about 2,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients worldwide, 72% received antibiotics even though only 8% had documented bacterial or fungal infections.

coronavirus nyc hospital
Medical personnel move a deceased patient to a refrigerated truck serving as make shift morgues at Brooklyn Hospital Center on April 09, 2020 in New York City.

As bacteria become more resistant to antibiotics, the risk of catastrophic consequences increases. E. coli, for example, causes millions of urinary-tract infections every year. If an extremely antibiotic-resistant strain of it develops, it could spread and kill "countless young women," according to Lance Price, founding director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at George Washington University.

"They could go to the doctor with what they think is a routine bladder infection and end up dead from bloodstream infections as the doctors try and fail to treat their infections as it ascends from the bladder to the kidneys and into the blood," Price said.

The COVID-19 pandemic, Price added, has exposed how our "dysfunctional" public-health system "has left us vulnerable to slow-spreading, antibiotic-resistant bacteria."

"The US is not prepared to deal with bacterial pandemics, as proven by our inability to deal with many simultaneous, ongoing epidemics and pandemics of multidrug-resistant bacteria that are currently circulating," Price said.

Houston Texas hospital coronavirus
Healthcare workers push a patient into a less intensive unit from the Covid-19 Unit at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas on July 2, 2020.

Fortune told Insider that bacteria will gain resistance to new antibiotics over time, so we'll have to be careful about how we use them and keep developing new drugs to face the problem.

But it's been decades since a new class of antibiotics has been developed. Companies like Achaogen and Aradigm, which focused on creating new ones, have shuttered over the past few years. And pharmaceutical giants like Novartis and Allergan have abandoned the effort altogether.

Drug manufacturers, Fortune said, don't see as much profit in developing new antibiotics as they do other drugs. Many have invested in developing a new antibiotic and failed, she said, and they can make more money by developing drugs people take regularly rather than only when they have an infection.

antibacteria drug
An antibiotic test.

Companies also can't charge as much for antibiotics as they can for other drugs they might develop, and the shelf-life of an antibiotic is relatively short, Fortune said. So if we're going to get new antibiotics, we need to find ways to get companies to prioritize creating them.

The United Kingdom is working to create such incentives.

The country investing $60 million into antibiotic development through an innovation fund, and its National Health Service has developed a subscription-style funding arrangement designed to spur pharmaceutical companies to make new antibiotics. According to that plan, the NHS would pay companies up-front for access to antibiotics, rather than paying for them based on how many pills they sell. 

Fighting bacteria with more viruses

Outside of developing new antibiotics, a type of virus could be the solution.

A category of virus called phages naturally target and kill specific types of bacteria. If you can find the particular phage that kills the bacteria a person is infected with, you could use it to treat their infection.

Strathdee has personal experience with this kind of treatment. Her husband was infected by a superbug in 2015, and when antibiotics weren't working, Strathdee reached out to people studying phages and superbugs.

phage phages bacteriophage petri dish
Two Petri dishes filled with bacteriophages.

By looking through sewage and barnyard waste, where phages are plentiful, and though the phages they had already isolated, the researchers found the phage that matched the bacteria in Strathdee's isolate. They injected him with billions of phages in a phage cocktail, and he made a full recovery.

"Not only am I an infectious-disease epidemiologist, but my own family's life was turned upside down and has never been the same as a result of a superbug. And if it caught me off guard, it's going to catch everybody off guard, because the average person doesn't know how big of a problem this is," Strathdee said.

phage phages bacteriophage syringe
Doctor and pharmacist Gilles Leboucher prepares a diluted solution of phages from three different concentrated types of phages on March 8, 2019.

The center she co-founded, IPATH, is now preparing to begin the first National Institutes of Health-funded clinical trial of phage therapy.

"What we need is a giant phage library that would be open-source, that could be used to match phages to a specific bacterial infection and used with antibiotics to cure these superbugs," Strathdee said.

Experts also stress that the US needs to be better tracking the spread of superbugs, developing antibiotics, researching phage therapy, using existing antibiotics more carefully, and investing much more into tackling this problem before it becomes a larger crisis. 

 Addressing the issue also requires international cooperation, Frieden said. 

"The bottom line is we need a pluripotent response," Frieden said. "That means sustained funding for health organizations within the US government, including the CDC. That means full support for the World Health Organization, both in terms of funding and mandate, and that means a better, stronger approach to identifying and fixing the gaps in readiness around the world."

Read the original article on Business Insider

Read also

Kyle Larson officially returning to NASCAR, will drive No. 5 car for Hendrick Motorsports in 2021

Journalist reveals that Heung-min Son has signed up with new talent agency

Rowdy Dodgers fans loot massive tractor-trailer after World Series win

News, articles, comments, with a minute-by-minute update, now on — latest news 24/7. You can add your news instantly now — here