According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), around 50,000 people in Germany contract antibiotic-resistant pathogens every year. “About two-thirds of these are diseases acquired in the hospital,” said Tim Eckmanns, head of antimicrobial resistance surveillance at the RKI. There are around 2,500 deaths recorded by the RKI every year due to resistant pathogens.

Number of deaths in the European Economic Area

Germany is not alone with this problem: According to estimates by the EU health authority ECDC, more than 35,000 people die every year in the European Economic Area due to antibiotic resistance. The health consequences are comparable to those of flu, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS together, the Stockholm-based authority said in a report. There are therefore sometimes significant differences between the states. Generally speaking, the reported resistance values ​​are lowest in the north of the European Economic Area (EEA) and highest in countries in the south and east.

The estimated number of deaths relates to the years 2016 to 2020 and shows an increase compared to previous estimates. “We are seeing worrying increases in the number of deaths attributed to infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” ECDC Director Andrea Ammon said ahead of Friday’s European Antibiotic Awareness Day. More needs to be done to ensure that antibiotics are not used unnecessarily.

In hospitals in particular, bacteria often circulate against which hardly any antibiotics are effective. The World Health Organization (WHO) sees growing resistance as a great danger. Experts speak of antibiotic resistance when patients do not react to an antibiotic, i.e. when the disease-causing bacteria are not destroyed by the antibiotic.

More education on the correct use of antibiotics

The Marburger Bund called for more information on the correct use of antibiotics. “Education and consistent compliance with the prescription requirement, which there are for good reasons, must be strengthened throughout Europe,” said Chairwoman Susanne Johna according to the announcement. The North Rhine-Westphalian Ministry of Health pointed out the correct intake and effect of antibiotics. “They are powerless against viruses, which cause more than 90 percent of colds,” explains Health Minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU). Anyone receiving an antibiotic should take it exactly as prescribed.

But this knowledge does not seem to have reached everyone. According to a survey, only half of Europeans know that antibiotics do not kill viruses but only work against bacterial infections. According to a Eurobarometer survey, 39 percent of Europeans believe that antibiotics help against viruses and 11 percent of citizens said they did not know the answer to this question.

Antibiotics: Particularly low rate in Germany

At the same time, only 23 percent of Europeans used antibiotics in 2021 – the lowest value since 2009. At 15 percent, Germany was one of the countries with a particularly low rate.

This also paid off during the pandemic. Contrary to what was feared, the corona pandemic did not worsen the situation in Germany, said Eckmanns. “It’s completely different in other countries and we’re also seeing a significant increase in resistance, for example in the USA.” This is due to good clinical management during the pandemic in Germany.

In general, Germany is doing well at the moment. Except for two resistant pathogens – the so-called VRE and Pseudomonas – “nothing is increasing in Germany at the moment,” said Eckmanns. But this requires a “permanent effort”. In addition to hygiene measures and the prudent use of antibiotics, new medicines will also be needed in the future. The “problem of antibiotic resistance” will not be rid of at some point, said Eckmanns. “This is not a pandemic that will eventually end.”