Contagion: Edging Closer to a World Without Antibiotics


The Manitoba Post with it’s partner The Canadian Press are presenting a Six Day series that will examine the impact of antimicrobial resistance and innovative approaches to combating what experts say is an impending global crisis.

Growing resistance to life-saving antibiotics kills hundreds of thousands of people each year by some estimates and costs governments millions. Without urgent action, the death toll is expected to rise to 10 million annually by 2050, and cost the global economy trillions.

The stories explore the epidemic in India, a hotbed for new superbugs, and South Africa, a nation fighting to contain the deadliest antibiotic-resistant disease today: drug-resistant tuberculosis. In researching their stories, Kane and Sagan also found that while the issue may seem like something that only affects people in distant countries, bacteria don’t respect borders and pose a threat to the health and safety of Canadians as well.Antimicrobial resistance, or the growth of micro-organisms that fight off the drugs used to treat them, has been rising in Canada and globally for decades. The unfettered use of antibiotics in humans and animals, coupled with environmental contamination, has helped create superbugs and made common diseases more difficult to cure. An estimated 700,000 people worldwide die annually from drug-resistant strains of bacterial infections, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Unless urgent action is taken, experts warn that by 2050, the annual death toll will soar to 10 million worldwide — dwarfing cancer — and drug resistance could cost the global economy US$100 trillion overall. Developing countries will experience the worst impacts, but countries like Canada are not immune: widespread international travel and trade help bacteria spread across borders.

Part 1: How Canada ‘dropped the ball’ on drug resistance


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Vanessa Carter was in a car crash when she was 25 that obliterated the right side of her face, smashing every facial bone and destroying her eye. Before she was treated for infections after the accident, Carter had never heard of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. But as she read more about it, she grew furious. At one point, she’d been on methicillin for 28 days, which would have only made the resistant bacteria stronger, and she could have unknowingly transmitted the superbug to her kids at any time. It also could have spread to her bloodstream and killed her. Although Carter’s story takes place on the other side of the world, it is a cautionary tale for Canada. Critics say Canada has been slow to act. Infectious disease physicians sounded the alarm about antimicrobial resistance 20 years ago, but the federal government, provinces and territories are still debating how to respond with a cross-country plan. National surveillance is limited to 60 hospitals and a handful of infections, and it’s not even known how many Canadians drug resistance is killing.