Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are a deadly and expensive health threat — one that could largely be addressed for just a couple of dollars per person a year, according to an OECD report released this week.
The report warns that superbug infections — those that don’t respond to antimicrobial medications — could kill about 2.4 million people across Europe, North America and Australia over the next 30 years. In the United States alone, nearly 30,000 people die each year as the result of infections from eight resistant bacteria, and the report estimates that 1 million people in the U.S. will die because of such infections by 2050. By that year, the report says, the health care costs associated with antibiotic-resistant superbugs could reach $65 billion.
Reducing the threat significantly wouldn’t cost all that much, the OECD says. Across the countries studied, the report says, three out of four deaths could be prevented by spending $2 a year per person on ideas as basic as promoting handwashing. “A five-pronged assault on antimicrobial resistance—by promoting better hygiene, ending the over-prescription of antibiotics, rapid testing for patients to determine whether they have viral or bacterial infections, delays in prescribing antibiotics and mass media campaigns—could counter one of the biggest threats to modern medicine,” the study says. In the U.S., the authors write, such programs could prevent 20,000 deaths and save $2.8 billion annually.