Study reveals alarming global burden of antimicrobial resistance in bacterial infections

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In a recent article published in the Lancet journal, researchers quantified the global bacterial antimicrobial resistance (AMR) burden to present deaths and disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) attributable to and associated with 23 pathogens, 12 major infectious syndromes, 18 drug categories, and 88 pathogen–drug combinations.

They considered two counterfactual scenarios and used consistent methods to arrive at the study estimates as they had no clue of the extent to which susceptible or no infection would replace drug-resistant infections in a scenario when there was no drug resistance.

Study: Global burden of bacterial antimicrobial resistance in 2019: a systematic analysis. Image Credit: Tatiana Shepeleva / ShutterstockStudy: Global burden of bacterial antimicrobial resistance in 2019: a systematic analysis. Image Credit: Tatiana Shepeleva / Shutterstock

Background

Bacterial AMR, an emerging public health threat, is making antibiotic use futile or less effective against many common bacterial diseases affecting animals and humans. A United Kingdom (UK) government-commissioned review of AMR stated that it could claim 10 million lives annually by 2050.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and numerous other researchers have also raised that AMR spread is a pressing issue that needs immediate attention; if left unaddressed, rising AMR will make several bacterial pathogens highly fatal in the near future. The challenge is to gather current data on pathogen–drug combinations contributing to actual bacterial AMR burden for all world regions, even those with minimal surveillance.

According to the authors, studies have only reported AMR-related data for specific regions and a limited number of pathogens and pathogen–drug combinations. For instance, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US-CDC) published a report in 2019 on AMR-related deaths for 18 AMR-related threats using surveillance data.

Similarly, Cassini et al. estimated the burden of eight and 16 pathogens and pathogen–drug combinations, respectively, for the European region between 2007 and 2015. Despite the significant contributions made by these studies to the field of AMR, there is a lack of comprehensive global estimates covering all locations, all pathogens, and all pathogen–drug combinations contributing to the rising burden of bacterial AMR.

About the study

In the present study, researchers used predictive statistical modeling to generate global estimates of bacterial AMR burden for all world locations, covering 204 countries for which they used all available data from the Global Burden of Diseases (GBD), Injuries, and Risk Factors study. The GBD study collated age- and gender-specific estimates for 369 injuries and illnesses in 204 nations and territories between 1990 and 2019.

They retrieved data from published scientific literature, multisite research collaborations, clinical trials, research institutes based in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs), public and private hospital records, diagnostic testing data, surveillance systems of pharmaceutical companies, global, national, and enhanced surveillance systems, and other relevant sources, encompassing 471 million (MN) patient records or isolates and 7,585 study-location years, which they gathered using varied strategies and used for study estimations.

The researchers modeled deaths and DALYs for 204 countries and territories to present cumulative estimates of AMR burden globally and for 21 GBD regions, including seven GBD super-regions.

For the first counterfactual scenario, where susceptible infections substituted all drug-resistant infections, they estimated only deaths and DALYs directly due to AMR. For the second counterfactual scenario, where no infection substituted all drug-resistant infections, they estimated all deaths and DALYs related to resistant infections. Both estimates had different utilities; however, both could inform the development of intermediation strategies to regulate AMR spread.

The study approach comprised ten estimation steps within five all-encompassing modeling components, each with varied data requirements; consequently, input data for each modeling component also varied.

Study findings

Substituting drug-resistant infections by no infections (first counterfactual scenario) and susceptible infections (second counterfactual scenario) would have saved 4.95MN and 1.27MN deaths, respectively, in 2019, implying that in 2019, the global AMR burden related to drug-resistant infections for 88 pathogen–drug combinations was ~4.95MN deaths (95% UI), of which drug resistance alone caused 1.27MN deaths. Moreover, after ischaemic heart disease and stroke, AMR accounted for most deaths in 2019.

Additionally, the study analysis revealed that AMR-related all-age death rates were highest in some LMICs, as opposed to the common notion that the burden of bacterial AMR would be higher in high-resource settings with higher antibiotic consumption. Indeed, AMR is emerging as a more serious problem for some of the world's poorest countries. The authors noted the highest AMR-related death rates in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia as a function of the prevalence of resistance and critical lower respiratory, bloodstream, and intra-abdominal infections, in these regions.

The study also highlighted that in LMICs, there are other drivers of the higher AMR burden, like a scarcity of laboratory infrastructure for microbiological testing needed to narrow antibiotic use or make it more targeted. Among other factors, counterfeit antibiotics, poor sanitation and hygiene, poor regulations on antibiotics use, etc., also drive resistance.

Further, the researchers identified six pathogens, E. coli, K. pneumoniae, S. pneumoniae, A. baumannii, S. aureus, and P. aeruginosa, who contributed most to the burden of AMR in 2019; they accounted for 73.4% (95% uncertainty interval) of deaths attributable to bacterial AMR. WHO has recognized all six as priority pathogens; however, except S. pneumoniae, targeted primarily through pneumococcal vaccination, none is the focus of global health intervention programs.

Seven pathogen–drug combinations caused more than 50000 deaths, highlighting the need for expanding infection prevention and control (IPC) policies targeting the deadliest combinations, bolstering vaccine and antibiotic development, and improving access to essential second-line antibiotics where needed. Furthermore, resistance to β-lactam antibiotics, e.g., penicillins and cephalosporins, and fluoroquinolones accounted for >70% of deaths attributable to AMR across pathogens. These antibiotics are the first line of empirical treatment for severe infections.

In 2017, the WHO published a priority list to inform research priorities related to new antibiotics for pathogens with multidrug resistance that caused deadly infections. However, this list covered only five of the seven pathogen–drug combinations estimated to have caused the most deaths in 2019; for instance, this list did not feature fluoroquinolone-resistant E. coli and meticillin-resistant S. aureus only as a "high" but not a "critical" priority.

Per study estimates, the magnitude of bacterial AMR as a global public health issue is as much as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and malaria, perhaps, much higher. Additionally, the AMR pattern varied with geographical location, pathogens, and pathogen–drug combinations. Thus, the regional estimates made in this study could help tailor local responses as the 'One Size Fits All' approach might not be appropriate.

Despite concerted data collection efforts, high-quality data on AMR was sparsely available for many LMICs. Nevertheless, an improved scientific understanding of this rapidly emerging health threat should be the highest priority for global health policymakers.

Conclusions

The present study used major methodological innovations, two varying AMR counterfactual scenarios, and comprehensive data to fetch novel insights into the global AMR burden. Most importantly, it incorporated models tested and iterated over years during GBD study analysis. So, when used collectively, these models provided a complete estimate of AMR burden with robust geographical coverage.

Further, the researchers compared findings with other causes of death, offering much-needed context on the scale of the burden of this rapidly growing public health problem. The study analysis confirmed that bacterial AMR posed the biggest threat to human health in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, involved a diverse set of pathogens, and is exceptionally high for multiple essential antibiotic classes, including β-lactams and fluoroquinolones.

Furthermore, efforts to build and enhance laboratory infrastructure and bolster national & global AMR plans of action are essential to addressing the universal AMR burden. Future studies should also evaluate the indirect effects of AMR, such as its effect on the prophylaxis of infections in organ transplant recipients.

In the future, the study estimates could inform treatment guidelines against many predominant bacterial pathogens for a given infectious syndrome, which, along with estimates of pathogen–drug burden, could inform their treatment guidelines customized for a specific location.

Journal reference:
Neha Mathur

Written by

Neha Mathur

Neha is a digital marketing professional based in Gurugram, India. She has a Master’s degree from the University of Rajasthan with a specialization in Biotechnology in 2008. She has experience in pre-clinical research as part of her research project in The Department of Toxicology at the prestigious Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI), Lucknow, India. She also holds a certification in C++ programming.

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