Bacterial infections are the second leading cause of death in the world. In 2019, one in eight people died from a bacterial infection, the first global estimate of their lethality recently revealed.

The massive new study, published in the journal Lancetanalyzed deaths caused by 33 common bacterial pathogens and 11 types of infections in 204 countries and territories.

Pathogens were associated with 7.7 million deaths – or 13.6% of the global total – in 2019, the year before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Medical Xpress.

Pathogens, the second cause of mortality, globally

The high number of deaths recorded in 2019 worldwide made pathogens the second leading cause of death after ischemic heart disease, which includes heart attacks, according to the study.

Just five of 33 bacteria were responsible for half of these deaths: Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

S. aureus is a common bacterium in human skin and nostrils, but which is behind a number of diseases, while E. coli commonly causes food poisoning.

Specialists suggest investments in health, to stop the increase in the number of infections

The study was carried out as part of the Global Burden of Disease, a vast research program funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, involving thousands of researchers from around the world.

“These new data reveal for the first time the full extent of the challenge that bacterial infections pose to public health worldwide. “It is extremely important to put these results on the radar of global health initiatives so that these deadly pathogens are scrutinized and appropriate investments are made to reduce the number of deaths and infections,” said Christopher Murray, co-author of the study and director of the US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

The research highlights clear differences between poor and rich regions of the world

In sub-Saharan Africa, there were 230 deaths per 100,000 population due to bacterial infections.

That number dropped to 52 per 100,000 in what the study called the “high-income super-region,” which includes countries in Western Europe, North America and Australasia.

The authors called for increased funding, including for new vaccines, to reduce the number of deaths, while also warning against the “unwarranted use of antibiotics”.

Hand washing is among the recommended measures to prevent infection.

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