The death toll from antibiotic-resistant infections is higher than previously estimated but is improving, federal health officials said Wednesday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found there are about 35,000 such deaths each year in the U.S. and 2.8 million infections, according to its new report, Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2019. Officials urged continued vigilance.
“Bacteria and fungi will continue to develop resistance to drugs designed to kill them and without continued action could undo the progress we are sharing this afternoon,”CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D., said.
The CDC’s 2013 report estimated there were 23,000 deaths annually, but revised estimates using additional records indicate it was nearly twice that. Using the revised data, it found deaths from antibiotic-resistant infections have dropped 18%, largely due to a 28% reduction at hospitals.
The report categorizes 18 antibiotic-resistant germs as urgent, serious or concerning. Two germs — drug-resistant Candida auris and carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter —were added to the list of urgent threats that already included carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Clostridioides difficile (C. difficile).
The CDC highlighted significant increases from 2013 to 2019, including drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae infections, which more than doubled to 55,000 annually, and erythromycin-resistant group A Streptococcus infections, which spiked from 1,300 to 5,400. Extended-spectrum beta-lactamase-producing Enterobacteriaceae also is on the rise, causing 197,400 infections and 9,100 deaths a year. CRE, which has been called “nightmare bacteria,” stayed relatively steady at 13,100 cases.
C. difficile was not included in the estimate of total infections and deaths because it typically is not resistant. However, it is linked to antibiotic use and causes an estimated 223,900 infections and 12,800 deaths annually. Both infections and deaths have declined compared to the 2013 estimates.
In addition to the 18 threats, the CDC added three germs to a watch list — azole-resistant Aspergillus fumigatus, drug-resistant Mycoplasma genitalium and drug-resistant Bordetella pertussis.
“Given the chance, resistant germs will affect our body, take up residence in our health care facilities, contaminate our food and water and move across our communities and globe,” said Michael Craig, M.P.P., from the CDC’s Antibiotic Resistance Coordination and Strategy Unit.
The CDC has been working with partners in the U.S. and around the world to prevent, track and fight antibiotic-resistant infections. The report found antibiotic prescribing for children in outpatient settings dropped 16% from 2011-’17. Craig said everyone can do their part to help.
“Infection prevention and control in health care facilities work,” he said. “Improving the use of antibiotics we already have works. Proper food handling works. Safe sex works. Vaccines and keeping hands clean work.”