Issue 81 • Week of August 6, 2023

Superbugs may sound like comic book villains, but they are far from fiction. The word was coined in 1966 to help journalists abbreviate the very real threat of bacteria and fungi that are resistant to antibiotics and antifungals. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) now causes the deaths of up to 160,000 Americans and more people worldwide than HIV/AIDS or malaria every year through untreatable blood and urinary tract infections, fatal pneumonia, and terminal cases of sepsis among others.

Our current situation was all foretold by the very scientist who discovered the first natural antibiotic, penicillin. Alexander Fleming was born 142 years ago this week and changed everything with the "single greatest victory ever achieved over disease".

Yet his and later breakthroughs – relied upon for so many illnesses and procedures – are at risk of becoming obsolete if humanity does not become more judicious in our application.

Americans have already died from infections that were resistant to all 26 antibiotics available at the time and scientists now predict that antibiotic resistance will kill more people than cancer by 2050. Globally, that will amount to 10 million people. Every year. Cumulative losses to GDP could reach $100 trillion.

How can we avert this medical catastrophe?

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