A new report commissioned by The Public Health Agency of Canada has found that a new kind of “superbug” will have the potential to kill almost 400,000 Canadians by 2050. The report, which was published this week, revealed that these drug-resistant superbugs in Canada could cost the economy $400 billion over the coming years, and the number of infections that are resistant to all antibiotics could rise to more than 40%.

In the new report, entitled "When Antibiotics Fail: The growing cost of antimicrobial resistance in Canada," experts warn that the percentage of bacterial infections that are resistant to drugs is likely to increase from 26% in 2018, to 40% in the next 30 years.

According to the research, this 14% increase is not only expected to cost Canada more than $120 billion in hospital expenses and $388 billion in gross domestic product, but it could also cost nearly 400,000 lives, almost the equivalent to the whole population of Halifax.

The report was commissioned by The Public Health Agency of Canada, and the independent panel was assembled by the Council of Canadian Academies.

The 268-page report details the potentially worrying future of Canada’s drug resistance rate, and the potential cost of future superbugs that are resistant to all antibiotics.

The report explains that “antimicrobial resistance” occurs when bacteria, viruses and fungi become drug-resistant, and have evolved to be able to fight drugs that should otherwise kill them.

This has come from years of “unnecessary antibiotic use” in humans and agriculture, and widespread international travel and trade that has allowed the drug-resistant bacteria to spread worldwide.

The report explains that currently about 26% of infections are drug-resistant, which is expected to rise to 40% in the next 30 years.

These incurable illnesses could decrease Canadians quality of life while putting some socio-economic groups more at risk.

Particularly at risk are Indigenous, low-income and homeless people, as well as those who travel to developing countries where resistant microbes are more common.

That said, University of British Columbia microbiology professor Brett Finlay confirmed we are all at risk.

"It's going to change the world," Finlay said in an interview. "We all go to hospitals and we all get infections."

The report concludes that health care in Canada needs a "complete re-evaluation" if these superbugs are to be stopped in their tracks.

At the moment, the panel of experts discussing the report believes that Canada does not have an effective federal, provincial or territorial surveillance of antimicrobial resistance, and there’s not enough strong data describing the number of resistant infections in the country.

One of the experts on the panel advises that Canada must immediately invest $120 million into research and up to $150 million in education and infection control, matched by the provinces and territories.

They believe this is the only way to put a stop to the potentially-devastating effects of these drug-resistant illnesses.

"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 Finlay. "It's time to do something right now."

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