Antimicrobial resistance could soon claim more lives than cancer and traffic accidents combined, according to a new report by the UK government. By 2050, scientists estimate the death toll from drug-resistant infections may rise from today’s 700,000 (a low estimate) to an astonishing 10 million per year.
It’s hard to imagine a world in which a simple cut or scrape could lead to a deadly infection with no cure. But this “post-antibiotics era” is fast approaching, propelled in large part by the abuse of antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs to treat disease and promote growth in animals on factory farms. In the United States, 80 percent of all antibiotics are used on farmed animals, turning farms into breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant superbugs, which can cross species to humans through direct contact or via bacteria-laden meat or other animal products.
The report’s authors find that over the next 35 years, 300 million people—roughly equal to the current population of the United States minus Texas—are expected to die prematurely because of drug resistance. The monetary impact over this time period will be equivalent to losing an entire year of global economic output.
Developing countries, the authors note, will be hardest hit; those with high rates of malaria, HIV, or TB will see progress towards eradicating these illnesses thwarted by increased drug resistance.
“Left unchecked, the current trend in rising drug resistance is a crisis of global scale,” the report concludes.