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  • Writer's pictureEnid Gonzalez-Orta

Small World, Big Threat by Alex S.

A shrinking world connects us all more each passing day, and likely in ways we seldom consider. Products reach us from afar, and in no time flat, be they durable goods or our daily groceries. Modern technology has brought many great improvements to the lives of most, but none of this has come without attendant costs. A century ago, we saw infectious disease as the most common cause of death in nearly all age groups (ONS, 2021), but while advancements in medicine and sanitation saw those numbers decrease, changes to our diet and lifestyle have given rise to more cancer, heart disease and stroke. It’s possible that without innovations in the novel antibiotic space we could see that mortality burden creep back to levels not seen in over half a century.

            Today’s higher density of contact with people and produce from near and far means that we receive greater exposure to pathogens that we may not have encountered in slower times. In the U.S. alone we see nearly 800 billion air passenger miles every year (Statista, 2021), and about 3.2 trillion automobile miles. (Meyer, 2024) These figures have grown rapidly over the past few decades, amounting to roughly 5 times the passenger air traffic in 40 years, and about double the miles in cars. We get around, and we bring our bugs along for the ride. This reality offers an environment where bacteria have many more hosts to infect, not only in the shared spaces we all transitorily inhabit, but ultimately in places such as hospitals and other healthcare settings, too. At the same time, these changes have coincided with populations more susceptible to microbes’ negative effects, often in the form of chronic and secondary infections.

            Now we are entering an era where our antibiotics increasingly fail and old foes rear their heads once more. We’re living decades longer on average because we can beat acute illness, despite also seeing worsening health due to chronic illness. The CDC estimates that antimicrobial resistant (AMR) infections cost the U.S. $4.6 billion each year due to prolonged hospital stays caused by approximately 2.8 million resistant infections that prove difficult to treat successfully. (Timbrook, 2023) A statistical model employed by The Lancet estimates that in 2019 there were 4.95 million deaths where an association with AMR bacteria could be established, and found 1.27 million to be the direct result of such infections, with 1 in 5 of those deaths being in children under 5. (IHME) Knowing this is the challenge we face, we must increase the scope and scale of antibiotic research to keep pace with an ever-increasing need.

 

 Antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. (n.d.). https://www.healthdata.org/research-analysis/health-risks-issues/antimicrobial-resistance-amr

Antimicrobial Resistance Collaborators. (2022, January 19). Global burden of bacterial antimicrobial resistance in 2019: A ... Global burden of bacterial antimicrobial resistance in 2019: a systematic analysis. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)02724-0/fulltext


Meyer, S. (2024, February 9). Average miles driven per year in the U.S. (2022). https://www.thezebra.com/resources/driving/average-miles-driven-per-year/


ONS Contributors. (2017, September 18). Causes of death over 100 years. Causes of death over 100 years - Office for National Statistics. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/articles/causesofdeathover100years/2017-09-18


Statista Research Department. (2023, December 8). U.S. passenger-miles in air traffic 2021. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/185744/us-passenger-miles-in-air-traffic-since-1990/


Tristan Timbrook PharmD, M., & Sandra Perreand, M. (2023, December 6). Lifting the medical and economic burden of AMR in the US. ContagionLive. https://www.contagionlive.com/view/lifting-the-medical-and-economic-burden-of-amr-in-the-us

 


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