Bacterial infections are the second-leading cause of death globally after heart disease: Study

FRANCE — Common bacterial infections were the second-leading cause of death in 2019, and were linked to one in eight deaths globally, according to an analysis published in The Lancet.

The massive new study looked at deaths from 33 common bacterial pathogens and 11 types of infection across 204 countries and territories.

The pathogens were associated with 7.7 million deaths — 13.6% of the global total — in 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic took off.

That made them the second-leading cause of death after ischemic heart disease, which includes heart attacks, the study said.

Meanwhile in India, five common types of bacteria caused nearly 0.68 million deaths in the same year.

Still in the Indian context, A. baumannii (which can cause infections in the blood, urinary tract, and lungs) replaced Pseudomonas aeruginosa as one of the top five types that claimed 0.68 million lives across the country in 2019 alone, in the addition to the ones mentioned above.

Notably, just five of the 33 bacteria were responsible for half of those deaths: Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

  1. aureus is a bacterium common in human skin and nostrils but behind a range of illnesses, while E. coli commonly causes food poisoning.

“These new data for the first time reveal the full extent of the global public health challenge posed by bacterial infections,” said study co-author Christopher Murray, the director of the U.S.-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

S. aureus and E. coli deadlier than HIV/AIDS

More deaths were linked to two of the deadliest pathogens – S. aureus and E. coli – than HIV/AIDS (864,000 deaths) in 2019, yet analysis shows HIV research was awarded US$42 billion dollars, while E. coli research was awarded US$800 million.

The authors say such funding gaps might have arisen because there was, until now, a lack of data on the global burden of these infections.

The pathogens associated with the most deaths differed by age. With 940,000 deaths, S. aureus was associated with the most deaths in adults aged over 15 years.

The most deaths in children aged 5 to 14 years were associated with Salmonella enterica serovar Typhi, with 49,000 deaths.

In children older than newborns but under 5 years of age, S. pneumoniae was the deadliest pathogen, accounting for 225,000 deaths.

The pathogen associated with the most neonatal deaths was K. pneumoniae, with 124,000 deaths.

The research points to stark differences between poor and wealthy regions. For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, there were 230 deaths per 100,000 population from bacterial infections.

That number fell to 52 per 100,000 in what the study called the “high-income super-region” which included countries in Western Europe, North America, and Australasia.

The authors called for increased funding, including for new vaccines, to lessen the number of deaths, also warning against “unwarranted antibiotic use.”

Hand washing is among the measures advised to prevent infection.

The study was conducted under the framework of the Global Burden of Disease, a vast research program funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation involving thousands of researchers across the world.

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