Amid growing concern worldwide over antibiotic resistance, a research team said Thursday that more than 8,000 people nationwide are estimated to have died due to two major drug-resistant bacteria in 2017.
The first such survey conducted on a national level revealed the serious impact of the bacteria, which are feared to be spreading fast as a result of the overuse of antibiotics on people and animals, and underscored the need for Japan to use the drugs more appropriately, the team said.
The team at the Center Hospital of the National Center for Global Health and Medicine collected data on patients with bacteremia caused by two commonly detected antibiotic-resistant bacteria — Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) and fluoroquinolone-resistant salmonella.
Using the data provided by medical institutions, the team estimated the annual number of deaths hovered around 7,400 and 8,100 between 2011 and 2017.
By bacterium, MRSA deaths stood at 4,224 in 2017, although the number has been on the decline since 2011, and salmonella deaths were at 3,915, marking a continuous increase during the period, according to the team.
“As the number of MRSA deaths are falling, the government’s measures against drug-resistant bacteria, including giving favorable treatment to hospitals promoting proper use of antibiotics, appear to be effective to a certain level,” said Hiroshige Mikamo, an expert on the bacteria at Aichi Medical University.
But Mikamo called for reviewing the development of new drugs as well as how doctors choose drugs in treating patients, saying the annual number of deaths caused by the bacteria, including those not covered by the latest survey, is likely to “easily eclipse 10,000.”
Yoshiaki Gu, of the AMR Reference Center at the Center Hospital, said the team hopes to grasp the bigger picture by ascertaining the number of deaths caused by other drug-resistant bacteria, whether the patients suffered aftereffects and how long they were hospitalized.
While the bacteria largely do not impact healthy people, the risk of death from an infection rises in elderly people and those with a weakened immune system.
Every year, it is estimated that drug-resistant bacteria kill more than 35,000 people in the United States and some 33,000 in Europe, but the figures for Japan had been unknown, according to the team.
Although antibiotics are ineffective in treating viral infections, such as the common cold, many doctors in the country are known to prescribe them for such illnesses nonetheless.
The practice has been blamed for the spread of drug-resistant bacteria, with reports of middle ear and urinary tract infections becoming harder to treat than ever before in Japan and overseas.
The bacteria are also found in livestock, food, water and soil, and some researchers have pointed to their association with anti-bacterial additives found in livestock feed.
In 2018, the World Health Organization warned in a report that antibiotic resistance is rising to dangerously high levels in all parts of the world.
New resistance mechanisms are emerging and spreading globally, threatening medical institutions’ ability to treat common infectious diseases.
A growing list of infections — such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning, gonorrhoea and foodborne diseases — are becoming harder, and sometimes impossible, to treat as antibiotics become less effective, it said.
Antibiotic resistance leads to higher medical costs, prolonged hospital stays and increased mortality, the WHO said.
“The world urgently needs to change the way it prescribes and uses antibiotics. Even if new medicines are developed, without behavior change, antibiotic resistance will remain a major threat,” it said.