They aren’t as scary-looking as monsters or zombies. In fact, you can’t even see one without a microscope. But some bacteria have grown stronger than antibiotics, and they are killing more people than vampires ever will.

These creatures, sometimes called “nightmare bacteria,” are becoming deadlier as they grow more resistant to drugs that used to be able to destroy them. Antibiotics have been effective in the treatment of tuberculosis, polio, whooping cough, tetanus and malaria. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria could make the fatality rates for these diseases spike again.

Shigella causes diarrheal disease in children. Studies show an increasing occurrence of resistant strains. (CDC)

Misuse and overuse of antibiotics is part of the problem. A contributing cause, experts say, is inadequate investment made in new and better antibiotics in recent years.

The World Health Organization (WHO) raised the vision of a “post-antibiotic era” in a 2014 assessment of the problem.

”This serious threat is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country,” the agency reported. Even though super bugs are on the loose, causing disease and festering infection, the global data about how frequently it happens is incomplete.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a better handle on U.S. data. It calculated that 2 million American people were infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria in 2013, and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections.

The Obama administration announced a plan for addressing this health threat in March. It calls on U.S. agencies, international partners, individuals and organizations to collaborate, working across disciplines of public health, veterinary medicine and other fields.

MRSA can cause life-threatening bloodstream infections, pneumonia and surgical-site infections. (NIAID)

These partners will work toward five goals:

  • Slow the emergence and spread of resistant bacteria.
  • Strengthen surveillance to combat resistance.
  • Advance development and use of diagnostic tests for superbugs.
  • Accelerate research and development for new antibiotics and vaccines.
  • Improve international collaboration for prevention, surveillance and control of antibiotic resistance and antibiotic research and development.

The head of the CDC, Dr. Tom Frieden, frequently warns that a disease outbreak anywhere is a threat everywhere. “We still have time to close the door on antibiotic resistance. … That’s a key challenge for the next decade in many aspects of global health.”