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INDIANAPOLIS — The term “superbug” has become increasingly popular in recent years.  Cases of superbugs or antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been on the rise, and now new research shows they’re killing more people than HIV/AIDS and malaria.  

A new study published in the medical journal The Lancet found that in 2019, drug-resistant infections directly killed 1.2 million people and played a role in 5 million more deaths worldwide. 

The study listed that “AMR is a leading cause of death around the world, with the highest burdens in low-resource settings. Understanding the burden of AMR and the leading pathogen–drug combinations contributing to it is crucial to making informed and location-specific policy decisions, particularly about infection prevention and control programmes, access to essential antibiotics, and research and development of new vaccines and antibiotics.”

 CBS4 spoke with Dr. Anthony Zabel, who says superbugs are something the medical community has been concerned about for a while. Now he hopes this new research will help lead to a realization across the general public, about the dangers of antibiotic overuse.  

“The more that we use antibiotics, the more that bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, the greater chance they have to develop resistance. And so, to help prevent that as medical providers and prescribers of antibiotics, we try to minimize antibiotic use as much as possible,” he said.

The scientists behind the study agree, saying “ minimizing the use of antibiotics when they are not necessary to improve human health—such as treating viral infections—should be prioritized. To this end, building infrastructure that allows clinicians to diagnose infection accurately and rapidly is crucial so that antimicrobial use can be narrowed or stopped when appropriate. The notion of antibiotic stewardship remains a core strategy in most national and international AMR management plans, although barriers to implementing stewardship programs in LMICs should be addressed.”

Zabel says with a concentrated effort to limit use of antibiotics for what could very well be a viral bronchitis or sinus infection might help patients down the road when they’re older and potentially sicker from having an antibiotic resistant infection.

 “Often times for upper respiratory infections for example, the problem will resolve on its own, and antibiotics may not be needed to be used to facilitate a recovery. Tossing out a number in mind, in my experience 98% of the time common cold symptoms or sinus infections will get better over a week or so if patients just get plenty of rest and eat an appropriately healthy diet. It’s rare occasions where those symptoms might become severe to indicate a bacterial infection when antibiotics would be needed, but often just supportive care is sufficient,” he said.