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 said the spread of antimicrobial resistance in Ukraine is an ‘urgent crisis’
  • Roughly 60 percent of patients had infections 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 quickly spreading across war-torn Ukraine – and US health officials have now issued a warning that the infections are spreading beyond the country’s borders.

Hospitals in the country are fighting a rapid rise in drug-resistant infections, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say are ‘spread[ing] into Europe.’ 

Officials said the spread of antimicrobial resistance in Ukraine is an ‘urgent crisis’ which must be addressed.

Researchers sampled hundreds of Ukrainian patients for infections caught while at the hospital in November and December 2022.

Paramedics check the condition of wounded soldiers at the resuscitation bus on August 11, 2023 in Zaporizhzhia 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 roughly 60 percent of patients had infections resistant to carbapenem antibiotics – which the CDC describes as a last line of defense antibiotic because it is usually so effective.


Antibiotics have been doled out unnecessarily by GPs and hospital staff for decades, fueling once harmless bacteria to become superbugs.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously warned if nothing is done the world is heading for a ‘post-antibiotic’ era.

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

Bacteria can become drug resistant when people take incorrect doses of antibiotics or if they are given out unnecessarily.

Figures estimate that superbugs will kill 10 million people each year by 2050, with patients succumbing to once harmless bugs.

Around 700,000 people already die yearly due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria across the world. 

Concerns have repeatedly been raised that medicine will be taken back to the ‘dark ages’ if antibiotics are rendered ineffective in the coming years.

In addition to existing drugs becoming less effective, there have only been one or two new antibiotics developed in the last 30 years.

In 2019, the WHO warned antibiotics are ‘running out’ as a report found a ‘serious lack’ of new drugs in the development pipeline.

By comparison, just six percent of samples of similar kinds of infections were resistant to carbapenem antibiotics in an European study through 2017.

The study authors wrote: ‘In Ukraine, the confluence of high prewar rates of antimicrobial resistance, an increase in the prevalence of traumatic wounds, and the war-related strain on health care facilities is leading to increased detection of multidrug-resistant organisms with spread into Europe.’

Health officials have been cautioning for years about growing antimicrobial resistance as a result of the ongoing war in Ukraine.

The CDC’s European equivalent raised the alarm back in March 2022 that hospitals should isolate and screen patients in Ukraine to preempt organisms resistant to multiple drugs.

Dr Amesh Adalja, an infectious diseases doctor working at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told ‘Ukraine has been well established to be a reservoir for antibiotic resistant bacteria and it is not surprising that cases are increasing given that a war is occurring there, causing injuries and delaying ability to secure care. 

‘Similar issues 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 world wide problem that is only increasing — what’s occurring is not specific to Ukraine but another example of it. This phenomenon has been — for decades — an increasing threat to modern medicine.’

Last year, Germany saw infections from drug-resistant bacteria shoot up after March 2022, in connection with refugees from Ukraine.

The largest rise in Germany was for drug-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae. 

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

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

In July, American military doctors in Ukraine treating a Ukrainian solider said the patient had been infected by six separate ‘extensively drug-resistant bacteria,’ including Klebsiella pneumoniae, after he suffered severe burns across more than half his body.