With antibiotic resistance building, experts fear a day when everyday bacterial infections could once again be life-threatening—and a new federal study shows "we're getting closer and closer to the cliff," says a CDC rep. Already, two million people each year suffer from antibiotic-resistant infections, and 23,000 of them die, the study suggests. And that could just be the best-case scenario, based on very conservative estimates that count only deaths directly tied to such infections, the New York Times reports. "This is a floor," says a top CDC official. "We wanted the cleanest number, the least subjective number." The Times and Reuters note the report specifies 17 drug-resistant bacteria and one fungus, including antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea; C. difficile, which causes potentially fatal diarrhea; and CRE, which is now resistant to almost every single antibiotic.
The study is the first of its kind conducted by the federal government, and the accompanying report warns against the overuse of antibiotics, both in people and farm animals. As Ezra Klein points out at the Washington Post, "it is very hard to imagine that North Dakota and Louisiana need to be prescribing antibiotics at twice the rate of California and Colorado"—but that's the case. And here's the "really scary part": New antibiotics are being developed far more slowly than just a few decades ago, he notes. The CDC director echoes that: "We don't have new drugs about to come out of the pipeline. If and when we get new drugs, unless we do a better job of protecting them, we'll lose those, also." (Read more antibiotics stories.)