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Turning Back the Superbug Scourge Is Still Possible

Samples of bacteriophage at a GangaGen Inc. laboratory in Bengaluru.
Samples of bacteriophage at a GangaGen Inc. laboratory in Bengaluru. Photographer: Samyukta Lakshmi/Bloomberg


Around 700,000 people worldwide die annually as a consequence of superbugs. By 2050, that number is predicted to explode to 10 million. Pills we’ve relied on for decades to treat common infections simply no longer work. It’s a silent yet full-blown crisis. But where do these antibiotic-resistant bugs come from?

Experts once thought they proliferated mainly in hospitals. Yet we know now they are everywhere. In our final episode of this season’s Prognosis podcasts, Bloomberg Senior Editor Jason Gale takes us for a visit to Copenhagen, Denmark, where one researcher searches for clues in airplane waste landing from far-flung countries. What he found are superbugs thriving in the digestive tracts of healthy people living all over the world.

Even in countries, such as the Netherlands, where doctors’ prescriptions for antibiotics have been strictly controlled, highly resistant bacteria have made their way into people via the food chain. Yet it’s not too late. With enough will and money, the world can still turn back the rising tide of these killers among us.