A microbiologist works with tubes of bacteria samples in an antimicrobial resistance and characterization lab within the Infectious Disease Laboratory at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on November 25, 2013. Antimicrobial resistance is likely to kill nearly 400,000 Canadians and cost the economy about $400 billion in gross domestic product over the next 30 years, warns a landmark new report. An expert panel cautions in “When Antibiotics Fail: The growing cost of antimicrobial resistance in Canada” that the percentage of bacterial infections that are resistant to the drugs used to treat them is likely to grow from 26 per cent in 2018 to 40 per cent by 2050. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, David Goldman

Report predicts drug resistance likely to kill 400,000 Canadians by 2050

This increase is expected to cost Canada 396,000 lives, $120 billion in hospital expenses

Superbugs are likely to kill nearly 400,000 Canadians and cost the economy about $400 billion in gross domestic product over the next 30 years, warns a landmark report.

An expert panel cautions in “When Antibiotics Fail: The growing cost of antimicrobial resistance in Canada” that the percentage of bacterial infections that are resistant to treatment is likely to grow from 26 per cent in 2018 to 40 per cent by 2050.

This increase is expected to cost Canada 396,000 lives, $120 billion in hospital expenses and $388 billion in gross domestic product over the next three decades.

“This is almost as big, if not bigger, than climate change in a sense because this is directly impacting people. The numbers are just staggering,” says Brett Finlay, a University of British Columbia microbiology professor who chaired the panel, in an interview. “It’s time to do something now.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada commissioned the report on the socio-economic impacts of antimicrobial resistance and the Council of Canadian Academies assembled the independent panel. The 268-page document released Tuesday represents the most comprehensive picture to date of the country’s resistance rate as well as its costs to the health system and economy.

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when micro-organisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi, evolve to resist the drugs that would otherwise kill them. Unnecessary antimicrobial use in humans and agriculture exacerbates the problem and widespread international travel and trade help resistant bacteria spread across the globe.

The most common antimicrobials are antibiotics, which treat infections caused by bacteria. The report focuses on resistant bacteria but uses the broader term antimicrobial because surveillance data tend to be collected under this heading.

An investigation by The Canadian Press last year revealed Canada has been sluggish to act on the growing threat. At that time, the federal government did not know how many Canadians were dying of resistant infections and it had not produced a plan that lays out responsibilities for provinces and territories.

A pan-Canadian action plan has still not materialized, but the new report estimates an annual death toll in Canada. The panel used the current resistance rate of 26 per cent to calculate that resistant infections contributed to over 14,000 deaths in 2018, and of those, 5,400 were directly attributable to the infections — only slightly less than those caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

ALSO READ: Flu season off to a fairly average start in B.C.: report

The panel’s economists used a more cautious model to project the impacts than a well-known international report by British economist Jim O’Neill, which predicted up to 10 million global deaths annually by 2050.

The Canadian report’s findings on the economic and social toll of antimicrobial resistance are stark. Currently, the problem costs the national health-care system $1.4 billion a year and by 2050, that figure is projected to grow to $7.6 billion, the report says. The cost to GDP is expected to jump from $2 billion to up to $21 billion annually.

Resistant infections decrease quality of life while increasing isolation and stigma and the impact will be unequally distributed as some socio-economic groups are more at risk, the report adds. These groups include Indigenous, low-income and homeless people, as well as those who travel to developing countries where resistant microbes are more common.

“Discrimination may be targeted at those with resistant infections or deemed to be at risk of infection,” the report warns. “Canadian society may become less open and trusting, with people less likely to travel and more supportive of closing Canada’s borders to migration and tourists.”

Antimicrobial resistance has the potential to impact everyone, Finlay says.

“It’s going to change the world,” he says. “We all go to hospitals and we all get infections.”

The report notes that resistance could increase the risk and reduce the availability of routine medical procedures including kidney dialysis, joint replacement, chemotherapy and caesarean section. These procedures all carry a threat of infections for which antibiotics are commonly prescribed.

Limiting the impacts of antimicrobial resistance requires a “complete re-evaluation” of health care in Canada, the report concludes.

The panel states that Canada lacks an effective federal, provincial and territorial surveillance system of antimicrobial resistance and use, with little comprehensive data describing the number of resistant infections and their characteristics.

It also calls for improved stewardship involving careful use of antimicrobials to preserve their effectiveness, strict infection prevention and control through hand hygiene, equipment cleaning and research and innovation for new treatments.

The report notes it’s unlikely that new broad-spectrum antimicrobials will be discovered. None have been found in decades and there’s little profit incentive for pharmaceutical companies to invest in drugs that quickly cure patients. However, the panel calls for more flexible regulations and incentives to promote discovery of new antimicrobials that treat infections caused by specific bacteria.

Alternative therapies are also being developed to treat or prevent resistant infections, including vaccines and treatments using phages, which are viruses that attack bacteria, the report adds.

Canada should immediately invest $120 million in research and innovation and up to $150 million in stewardship, education and infection control, matched by the provinces and territories, says Dr. John Conly, a panel member and University of Calgary professor specializing in chronic diseases.

The government and public should “absolutely” be as concerned about antimicrobial resistance as they are about climate change, Conly says.

“It’s a slow-moving tsunami. Like a tidal wave, it’s out at sea but it’s going to land on us much sooner than climate change.”

ALSO READ: Don Cherry says he was fired, not sorry for ‘Coach’s Corner’ poppy rant

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Langley East Liberal candidate denies NDP accusation of homophobia over crosswalk vote

Margaret Kunst said she has worked with LGBTQ youth with her PuCKS charity

Langley surveys its residents about building sustainable community

Township encourages people to have their say about climate action before Oct. 16

LETTER: Langley neighbourhood re-established as quarter-mile racetrack

Writer queries what the municipality want residents to do about the growing problem of speeders?

B.C.’s top doctor encourages Halloween costumes to include masks

Dr. Bonnie Henry will soon be releasing guidelines on how to safely trick-or-treat this Halloween

Racist, homophobic graffiti prominent in downtown Maple Ridge

City councillors up late removing hateful message

Reincarnation, baby! Music-making B.C. couple celebrate ‘miracle’ pregnancy

‘I (said) to Adam, ‘I really think this is your brother reincarnated,’ Elise Estrada says

Survey finds doctors worry supplies of flu vaccine, PPE will lag demand

Canadian health officials have said additional flu vaccines have been ordered to meet expected demand

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Search suspended for Indigenous elder last seen mushroom picking in northwest B.C.

Mushroom picker Thomas (Tommy) Dennis has been missing since Sept. 16

Ahead of likely second wave, 60% of Canadians relaxing COVID-19 measures

Proportion of Canadians following safety measures has dropped by 3 per cent in the past two weeks

Canada’s population tops 38 million, even as COVID-19 pandemic slows growth

Immigration, the top population driver, decreased due to the pandemic

Most Read