antibiotics

The use of antibiotics around the world has climbed by 36 percent in the last decade, finds new research. And the rise means more people at risk for drug-resistant bacteria.

According to the study, published last week in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, overuse of antibiotics is on the rise in countries with nascent middle class, and it’s resulting in increased incidences of drug-resistant bacteria.

The study is the most comprehensive of its kind to date, reports the Los Angeles Times. It looked at antibiotic use in more than 70 countries from 2000 to 2010. “It found that the rise in consumption could not be explained by population changes alone and appeared to parallel economic development,” the Times explained. “A few countries experiencing economic growth – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – accounted for more than three-quarters of the rise in antibiotic use.”

Researchers noted that broad-spectrum antibiotics showed the highest rise in use in the last decade. “Among them are carbapenems, such as imipenem and meropenem; and polymyxins, both often used against enterobacteriaceae, such as salmonella and shigella,” notes the Times. These antibiotics are often a last resort for drug-resistant bacteria and infections otherwise unresponsive to more common antibiotics.

Lead author of the study and Princeton University epidemiologist, Thomas Van Boeckel, said that as more people can afford antibiotics, they’re becoming more widely used. “That is not necessarily all bad news. People need access to antibiotics. But there is appropriate use and misuse.” The World Health Organization has warned that we’re nearing the “post-antibiotic era.”

In the U.S. and Europe prescriptions for antibiotics were down, although on a per-person basis, the U.S. still ranks high. And in U.S. antibiotics are still widely fed to livestock, with those numbers also on the rise. These antibiotics are given to animals to speed growth rather than treat infections.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image: Erin DeMay