HEALTHY LIVING

Superbugs May Be Deadlier Than Cancer By 2050 -- And We're Currently Unprepared

04/17/2015 05:22 pm ET | Updated Apr 17, 2015

Antibiotic resistance is a growing global problem. As infectious bacteria evolve, growing stronger than the medications used to fight them, people are now vulnerable to infections that haven't been a threat to human health since the advent of antibiotics.

In 2012, there were 450,000 cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, and at least 10 countries have reported incidences of treatment-resistant gonorrhea, according to the World Health Organization. According to one study, it's estimated that these drug-resistant superbugs will kill 10 million people a year -- a greater toll than cancer -- by 2050.

Health officials are encouraging doctors and patients to do their part to cut down on the problems caused by antibiotic resistance. For one thing, we can be more judicious about when we use antibiotics to cure an illness, and if we do take them, we should take them as prescribed. Taking the full schedule of pills without any skipped days, even if you're already feeling better, prevents any harmful bacteria from surviving and mutating to become drug-resistant. Doctors should also make sure that a person has a bacterial infection, not a viral infection, before prescribing a course of antibiotics.

But responsible use alone may not be solution enough. In a "VICE" episode about the subject, first airing on HBO on April 17, Dr. Arjun Srinivasan of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains how the "low-hanging fruit" has already been picked, so to speak, when it comes to antibiotics development.

"What's different now than before is that in the past we've always had another antibiotic that would bail us out of the problem of resistance," Srinivasan said. "We don't have that luxury anymore. We're out, in some instances."

Watch a clip of Srinivasan's interview above and then check out the episode in full on Friday at 11 p.m. on HBO.

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