Bacterial infections linked to 1 in 8 deaths in 2019

Story at a glance

  • A group of researchers looked at global data on deaths from bacterial infections, like E. coli and Staphylococcus.

  • They found that 7.7. million, or nearly 14 percent, of all deaths in 2019 were a result of bacterial infections.

  • Many of those deaths occurred in low income countries, highlighting the need for a global perspective on public health.

In a study published Monday in The Lancet, a massive group of collaborators report the first global estimates of mortality rates from bacterial pathogens.

The study found that in 2019, 7.7 million deaths around the world were associated with bacterial infection. That estimate made up 13.6 percent, or about 1 in 8, of all global deaths that year.

The team used 343 million individual records and pathogen isolates to estimate deaths and type of infection responsible.

This included 33 bacterial pathogens, of which five were responsible for more than half the deaths. These were S. aureus, E. coli, S. pneumoniae, K. pneumoniae and P. aeruginosa. Staphylococcus aureus alone accounted for more than 1 million deaths in 2019. The other four were linked to more than 500,000 deaths each.

The team categorized infections into 11 types, which they also called “infection syndromes.” These include:

  • Bacterial infections of the skin and subcutaneous systems

  • Bloodstream infections

  • Gonorrhoea and chlamydia

  • Diarrhoea

  • Endocarditis and other cardiac infections

  • Infections of bones, joints, and related organs

“These new data for the first time reveal the full extent of the global public health challenge posed by bacterial infections,” says Christopher Murray, who is a study co-author and Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, in a press release. “It is of utmost importance to put these results on the radar of global health initiatives so that a deeper dive into these deadly pathogens can be conducted and proper investments are made to slash the number of deaths and infections.”

Mortality rate was highest in sub-Saharan Africa and lowest in high income countries, which include Western Europe and North America.

“Until now, country-level estimates for parts of the world where people are worst affected by bacterial infections have been noticeably absent,” said Authia Gray, study co-author and Post-Bachelor Fellow at IHME at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. “These new data could act as a guide to help address the disproportionately high burden of bacterial infections in low- and middle-income countries and may ultimately help save lives and prevent people losing years of their lives to illness.”

This analysis highlights the importance of understanding how many deaths can be attributed to bacterial infection, and the related issue of antimicrobial resistance, which has been steadily on the rise in recent decades. Taking a global view puts into perspective how many more deaths could occur if the antibiotics currently in use become less effective.

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