A perilous rise in antibiotic resistance is occurring worldwide, report scientists who also have documented a growing number of bacterial species that now are capable of repelling the drugs of last resort.
"We are on the precipice of many people dying without cures, people dying of infections that could have been cured 10 years ago," said Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, which has mapped several trends driving alarming rates of antibiotic resistance.
The problem occurs when antibiotics are misused or overused, leading to the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria -- so-called superbugs. The new report explored resistance trends in 39 countries and antibiotic use in 69. The report includes maps and online tools to help curb the bugs.
Widespread antibiotic usage is exacerbating resistance in high-population centers of the world.
In 2008, 29 percent of the bacteria known as Klebsiella pneumoniae in India were resistant to at least one drug of last resort, a class of medications called the carbapenems.
By 2014, 57 percent of Klebsiella in India were carbapenem-resistant. The bacteria can carry a death rate as high as 40 percent. Potent carbapenems can be purchased over the counter in India, Laxminarayan said.
A deadly drug-resistant form of Klebsiella, known as CRE, was transported to this country from India in 2009 and by 2013 the New Delhi strain was linked to a hospital outbreak involving endoscopes in Illinois, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A U.S.-derived form of the bacteria has been present in hospitals throughout the metropolitan region -- including Long Island -- for more than a decade. More than 3,000 cases of CRE statewide were tallied in 2013 by the State Health Department in its first published report on hospital-acquired infections that included the bacteria.
The report was posted on the department's website in December.
The most prevalent form of CRE in New York is the U.S. strain of the bacteria, health department infectious disease experts say.
Other highly drug-resistant forms of bacteria spreading worldwide include supergonorrhea, E. coli, salmonella and MRSA.
Dr. Bruce Polsky, chairman of medicine at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, said while antibiotic resistance isn't new, it is still very serious.
"This is a problem that has been building for a number of years now," Polsky said Thursday. "The major reason why we have resistance relates to antibiotic usage in the hospital and in the community."
He said bacteria become resistant as result of the "selective pressure" exerted on them by potentially lethal drugs.
Hospitals on Long Island and elsewhere in this country have begun aggressive antibiotic stewardship programs, efforts aimed at using the medications judiciously.
But antibiotic conservation programs are nonexistent in developing parts of the world, Laxminarayan's report showed Thursday.
An emerging driver of resistance in middle income countries, such as China, India and Brazil, Laxminarayan said, is the noteworthy rise of a middle class, which wants to include more meat in its diets.
"There is a clear demand for more animal protein and to achieve this, there is a more intensive use of antibiotics for animal growth promotion," Laxminarayan said.
He projects the use of antibiotics could rise dramatically in these countries to meet factory farming needs.