Among superbugs, MRSA is at the forefront of antimicrobial resistance

Published November 16, 2022

The WHO declared antimicrobial resistance (AMR) one of the top 10 threats to global health in 2019, and the urgency required to tackle this issue cannot be understated. “Antimicrobial resistance is the silent pandemic,” said IHME professor Mohsen Naghavi, who co-leads the estimation of AMR burden. “It started long before the spread of COVID-19, and we must race to address the challenge as antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections continue to threaten an increasing number of human lives.”

One pathogen-drug combination is particularly concerning: methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, the superbug also known as MRSA.

What is MRSA?

MRSA is an antibiotic-resistant type of S. aureus bacterial species (also known as staph). This development is worrying because resistance to methicillin is also a harbinger of resistance to other beta-lactam antibiotics, including synthetic penicillins, cephalosporins, and carbapenems. MRSA can infect cuts or scrapes in the skin and then be passed through skin-to-skin contact or through items such as towels or clothing that have touched the infected skin.

MRSA was the deadliest pathogen-drug combination globally in 2019: the bacteria had 121,000 deaths attributable to antimicrobial resistance, according to IHME findings published in The Lancet in January 2022. On the GBD super-region level, the number of all-age MRSA deaths attributable to AMR is largest in the Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Oceania super-region and is smallest in the Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia super-region.


IHME researchers and collaborators built upon their initial estimates and focused more closely on the WHO European region in the October 2022 Lancet paper. In their analysis, they found that MRSA was also a major problem in the region. It was the leading pathogen-drug combination for deaths attributable to AMR for over half of the region’s 53 countries.



What is being done?

There is currently no vaccine available for MRSA nor is there one listed in the WHO’s pipeline. However, MRSA was placed in the second of three tiers of the WHO’s “priority pathogens'' list in 2017, which was created to promote research and development of new and innovative antibiotics. An updated priority pathogens list is expected to be released this year , and hopefully IHME’s estimates demonstrating MRSA’s staggering global impact will be used to inform the pathogen’s move to the highest R&D priority tier.