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Superbug Threat

- June 15, 2018
Will antibiotics continue to work?
Featured Report

Public health experts warn of a growing menace: the spread of bacterial infections that antibiotics are powerless to cure. Such infections, caused by pathogens known as superbugs, kill an estimated 700,000 people per year around the world, 23,000 of them Americans. In the United States alone, fighting superbugs consumes up to $20 billion in health care costs annually, a recent study found. Because humans and livestock consume so many antibiotics — billions of doses a day — many bacteria are becoming resistant to the drugs. Some doctors prescribe antibiotics indiscriminately, and countries such as India allow over-the-counter sales of the drugs. Making matters worse, pharmaceutical companies are not producing enough new antibiotics to replace those that are no longer effective. Some experts hope heightened awareness of the superbug threat, along with better diagnostic tools, will contain the problem, but others say governments must act more quickly to reduce antibiotic consumption. Meanwhile, researchers are seeking alternatives to antibiotics, such as using the immune system to quell infections.

Global and U.S. Action

Antibiotic use continues to rise.

Monitoring Gaps

Critics say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is understating the bacteria threat.

Debate Continues

India still allows over-the-counter antibiotic purchases.

1880s–1930sScientists begin to unravel the mysteries of bacteria.
1940s–1990sA golden age of antibiotic development begins.
2000–PresentMore bacteria become resistant to antibiotics.

Should the U.S. limit antibiotics in food-animal production?


Matthew Wellington
Antibiotics Program Director, U.S. PIRG.


Dr. Liz Wagstrom
Chief Veterinarian, National Pork Producers Council.


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