CDC sounds alarm over superbugs in Ukraine that are resistant to ‘last-ditch’ antibiotics and are beginning to spread across war-torn country’s borders

  • CDC called the spread of antimicrobial resistance in Ukraine an 'urgent crisis'
  • About 60 percent of patients had infections that were resistant to “last-ditch” antibiotics
  • READ MORE: CDC says it's tracking a NEW coronavirus variant

Superbugs resistant to some of the most powerful antibiotics are spreading rapidly across war-torn Ukraine – and US health officials have now warned that the infections are spreading beyond the country's borders.

Hospitals across the country are battling a rapid increase in drug-resistant infections, which are spreading to Europe, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Officials said the spread of antimicrobial resistance in Ukraine is an “urgent crisis” that must be addressed.

Researchers examined hundreds of Ukrainian patients for infections they acquired in hospital in November and December 2022.

Paramedics check the condition of injured soldiers at the resuscitation bus on August 11, 2023 in Zaporizhia Oblast, Ukraine

Imipenem-cilastatin is an antibiotic used to treat serious infections caused by bacteria, such as pneumonia.  It is known as a carbapenem antibiotic because it is so effective

Imipenem-cilastatin is an antibiotic used to treat serious infections caused by bacteria, such as pneumonia. It is known as a carbapenem antibiotic because it is so effective

They found that about 60 percent of patients had infections that were resistant to carbapenem antibiotics — which the CDC describes as a last defense antibiotic because it is usually so effective.


Antibiotics have been unnecessarily distributed by GPs and hospital staff for decades, turning once harmless bacteria into superbugs.

The World Health Organization (WHO) previously warned that if nothing is done, the world is heading towards a 'post-antibiotic' era.

It claimed that common infections, such as chlamydia, will become deadly without immediate solutions to the growing crisis.

Bacteria can become resistant to medications if people take the wrong dose of antibiotics or if they are given out unnecessarily.

Figures estimate that superbugs will kill ten million people every year by 2050, with patients succumbing to once harmless insects.

About 700,000 people worldwide are already dying from drug-resistant infections, including tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria.

Concerns have been repeatedly expressed that medicine will be returned to the 'dark ages' if antibiotics become ineffective in the coming years.

In addition to existing drugs becoming less effective, only one or two new antibiotics have been developed in the past thirty years.

In 2019, the WHO warned that antibiotics were “running out” as a report found there was a “severe lack” of new drugs in the development pipeline.

By comparison, in a European study through 2017, only six percent of samples from similar types of infections were resistant to carbapenem antibiotics.

The study authors wrote: 'In Ukraine, the confluence of high antimicrobial resistance rates before the war, an increase in the prevalence of traumatic wounds and war-related pressure on healthcare facilities leads to increased detection of multidrug-resistant organisms with spread to Europe.'

Health officials have been warning for years about growing antimicrobial resistance due to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

The European equivalent of the CDC sounded the alarm in March 2022 that hospitals should isolate and screen patients in Ukraine to prevent organisms resistant to multiple drugs.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease doctor who works at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told 'Ukraine is known to be a reservoir for antibiotic-resistant bacteria and it is not surprising that the number of cases is increasing given the war occurs there, causing injury and delaying the ability to provide care.

'Similar problems occurred during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – Operation Iraqi Freedom Operation Enduring Freedom – with US soldiers contracting drug-resistant infections.'

Dr. Adalja added: 'Antimicrobial resistance is a global problem that is only increasing – what is happening is not specific to Ukraine, but is another example of it. This phenomenon has been an increasing threat to modern medicine for decades.”

Last year, Germany saw the number of infections with resistant bacteria skyrocket after March 2022, linked to refugees from Ukraine.

The largest increase in Germany occurred for resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae.

In the US, about five percent of Klebsiella samples in 2021 were resistant, the CDC found.

In the most recent study in Ukraine, all Klebsiella samples tested from patients were resistant to carbapenem antibiotics.

In July, U.S. military doctors in Ukraine treating a Ukrainian soldier said the patient was infected with six separate “extremely resistant bacteria,” including Klebsiella pneumoniae, after suffering severe burns over more than half his body.