Antibiotics, the mainstay of treatment against bacterial infections both in humans and animals, are losing their effectiveness. At issue: the natural ability of bacteria to develop resistance to such treatments. The phenomenon is posing a major challenge to healthcare systems across Europe and the world, and it is exacerbated by international free movement, which encourages the propagation of resistant bacteria.
A study published in The Lancet estimates that, across the European Economic Area in 2015, there were 671 689 infections by such bacteria, of which 63.5% were in hospitals and clinics, and that they caused 33 110 deaths. According to the study, the impact of the phenomenon on Europeans’ quality of life is similar to that of “flu, tuberculosis and HIV combined”.
For its part the OECD holds that “antimicrobial resistance risks worsening in OECD and EU28 countries if governments do not respond in a more determined manner”. For EU healthcare systems the cost of these infections is assessed at €1.5 billion per year, and there is also an impact on the capacity to treat multidrug-resistant bacteria. Increased antimicrobial resistance means more complications and longer hospital stays, particularly for over-65s and children under 1 year old.
Across the EU, figures reveal contrasts between countries, bacterial species and types of antibiotic used. Both existing and new phenomena are causes for concern. Between 2007 and 2017, strains of escherichia coli (particularly implicated in food poisoning) and klebsiella pneumoniae (lung infections) became increasingly resistant to third-generation cephalosporin antibiotics.