A new report estimates that antibiotic resistant infections could kill roughly 2.4 million in Europe, North America, and Australia by 2050, according to The Guardian. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which compiled the report, said antibiotic resistance is “one of the biggest threats to modern medicine.”

The report calls on doctors to be more judicious in prescribing antibiotics, and recommends regular hand washing as a way to mitigate this impact. They also suggested new testing methods could be developed to determine which patients are most in need of antibiotics.

Increasingly, microbes are evolving resistance to antibiotic drugs, particularly in low and middle-income countries. The report points to southern Europe as a focus for the problem, with Italy, Greece, and Portugal topping the list of OECD nations in terms of deaths resulting from drug resistance. Brazil, Indonesia, and Russia were also projected to see severe effects from these superbugs.

In the US, drug resistant infections are projected to kill 30,000 people by 2050, with healthcare costs totaling $65 billion by that year – higher than the total for the flu, HIV, and tuberculosis combined, according to CNBC. Resistance in the US to antibiotics is projected to reach 25 percent in 2030, up from 20 percent in 2005.

While the problem generally refers to resistance to first-line drugs, used as a first defense against infections, the report projects that resistance to second and third-line drugs will also increase in the timeframe.

In England, health officials are making outreach efforts to discourage patients from requesting antibiotics unless they are necessary. They warn that the drugs are often prescribed to treat coughs, sore throats, and earaches, which normally resolve on their own without drugs.

The OECD report calls for short-term investment to save lives and longer-term expenses. They say the rising drug resistance could be stopped for just $2 dollars per person annually.

According to Tim Jinks, head of the drug-resistant infections program at Wellcome Trust, a London-based biomedical research charity:

“This new OECD report offers important insight into how simple, cost-effective surveillance, prevention and control methods could save lives globally. Drug-resistant superbugs are on the rise worldwide and represent a fundamental threat to global health and development. This report provides yet further evidence that investing to tackle the problem now will save lives and deliver big payoffs in the future.”

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