Bioethics Blogs

The Age of the Superbug September 22, 2016 Just yesterday, the United Nations General Assemb…

September 22, 2016

by Sean Philpott-Jones, Chair, Bioethics Program of Clarkson University & Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

With all of the media hullaballoo about Hillary Clinton’s pneumonia, Donald Trump’s physical exam, Brangelina’s impeding divorce, and poisoned Skittles, you may have missed one of the biggest and most important health stories of this year.

Just yesterday, the United Nations General Assembly held a day-long meeting in New York City to discuss one of the most deadly threats to human health since the bubonic plague: antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This is only the fourth time in history that the General Assembly has met to address a health issue, having met twice in 2011 to talk about HIV/AIDS and chronic diseases, respectively, and again in 2014 to discuss the West African Ebola outbreak.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria pose an even greater threat than Ebola, HIV/AIDS, and heart disease combined. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotic-resistant forms of common bacteria like E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, andMycobacterium tuberculosis – among others – infect nearly 2 million people a year in the United States, killing at least 25,000.

Worldwide, the number of people infected is several magnitudes greater; an estimated 750,000 people died from antibiotic-resistant infections in 2015. Within just a couple of decades, that number is expected to increase by nearly 1500%, yielding over 10 million “superbug”-related deaths annually by 2050.

Antibiotic-resistant infections will soon account for one-third of all deaths globally, a startling turnabout from 1967. That year, thanks to the widespread use of antibiotics and still effective public immunization programs, then Surgeon General William Stewart famously stated that, “the time has come to close the book on infectious diseases.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.