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

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

Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File Photo)
RANCH MUSINGS: Visit to Kluskus (Lhoosk’us):Part 2

As dark descended on this five-horse outfit, we found a place to camp

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in South Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Jim Hilton took a trip to Helmcken falls in Wells Gray park. (Jim Hilton Photo)
HILTON: Forests and human health, Part one

What can Quesnel take away from worldwide forestry programs

Mitch Love played his minor hockey in Quesnel before moving to the WHL and beginning his coaching career. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Mitch Love, Team Canada, come up one game short

The Quesnel-born coach helped lead Canada to a silver medal at the World Juniors

Amy Newman (left) and castmate Rebecca Thackray parading around Barkerville in costume in 2018. Newman designed both gowns, which were both made of silk, and constructed her own gown. Thackray’s gown was made by a seamstress in Vancouver. Her camel-coloured velveteen cloak was made in Hong Kong, with pattern and fabric chosen by Newman. Her wool neckpiece/shawl was crocheted by a friend on Vancouver Island. The reticule/handbag was handmade by Newman, and her olive green shawl was ready-made, as were her elegant green leather gloves. (Photo Submitted)
Amy Newman wins international costume design award for Nam Sing film

The Nam Sing pack trip re-enactment took place in September 2019 in Barkerville

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

Williams Lake physician Dr. Ivan Scrooby and medical graduate student Vionarica Gusti hold up the COSMIC Bubble Helmet. Both are part of the non-profit organization COSMIC Medical which has come together to develop devices for treating patients with COVID-19. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Group of B.C. doctors, engineers developing ‘bubble helmet’ for COVID-19 patients

The helmet could support several patients at once, says the group

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Most Read