Superbugs thought to cause 23,000 deaths a year in the U.S. could be five-seven times higher.

One million Americans experience complications from an antibiotic-resistant infection each year. These infections are most likely picked up in a hospital or clinic, and create emotional, clinical and financial burdens.

In a 2013 CDC report, there is claimed to be 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths due to these drug-resistant infections, however infectious disease specialists from Washington University School of Medicine estimate that the number of deaths caused by multidrug-resistant organisms (MDROs) is more than six times higher than widely cited figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In a letter published in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, the researchers looked at data on inpatient and outpatient deaths in U.S. Hospitals in 2010. They estimated that a minimum of 153,113 deaths that year were caused by MDRO infections, with a worst-case scenario of 162,044. These numbers are significantly higher than the 23,000 reported in 2013 and would make MDROs the third-leading cause of death in the United States in 2010.

Something interesting to take note of, the cause of death reports can be complicated. Hospital codes don’t specify deaths caused by MDROs, making the numbers and information entirely uncertain.

What does this mean? For example, if someone had cancer, and acquired an infection, and ultimately passed due to sepsis (a life-threatening illness caused by your body’s response to an infection), the report could have most likely listed cancer as the cause of death.

“With rampant overuse of antibiotics, establishment of MDRO breeding and transmission centers (long-term acute-care hospitals and nursing facilities), and increasing rates of iatrogenic immunosuppression, the population at risk for MDRO infections and the likelihood of drug resistance will continue to increase,” the researchers concluded.

Read the Nov 22 Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol letter

Red the 2013 CDC antibiotic resistance threats report.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is expected to release a new report on Antibiotic-Resistant Infections Later In 2019.