Overuse of antibiotics is one of the main causes of the dangerous health threats posed by antibiotic resistance -- when the drugs are no longer effective against the diseases they were designed to fight.
Yet new research finds that antibiotic use by people rose 39 percent worldwide between 2000 and 2015, adding to the growing threat of antibiotic resistance, scientists say.
Their analysis of data from 76 countries found large increases in antibiotic use in low- and middle-income countries, and a slight decrease in high-income countries.
The study was published March 26 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
A major factor in rising rates of antibiotic resistance is inappropriate use of the drugs. For example, prescribing them for colds, which are caused by a virus and -- unlike bacteria -- are immune to antibiotics.
But while reduction in overall and inappropriate use of antibiotics is important, increased access to the drugs in lower-income countries is also necessary to combat their high rates of infectious diseases, according to the researchers.
"Finding workable solutions is essential, and we now have key data needed to inform those solutions," said study co-author Eili Klein, a researcher at the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP).
"Now, more than ever, we need effective interventions, including stewardship, public education, and curbing overuse of last-resort antibiotics," Klein said in a journal news release.
It's been more than a year since the United Nations General Assembly recognized the global threat of antibiotic resistance, but there has been little action since then, noted study co-author and CDDEP Director Ramanan Laxminarayan.
"We must act decisively and we must act now, in a comprehensive manner, to preserve antibiotic effectiveness," Laxminarayan said in the news release.
"That includes solutions that reduce consumption, such as vaccines or infrastructure improvements, particularly in low-income and middle-income countries. New drugs can do little to solve the resistance problem if these drugs are then used inappropriately, once they are introduced," he said.
The study was done by researchers from the CDDEP, Princeton University, ETH Zurich and the University of Antwerp in Belgium.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on antibiotic resistance.
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