Antibiotic drug resistance is a growing threat all around the world, and one that affects us all. More than two million people in the U.S. get sick every year due to antibiotic-resistant infections and at least 23,000 die from them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which calls these figures “conservative assumptions” and “likely minimum estimates.”
In its report, Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013, the CDC spells out the threat of antibiotic-resistant germs on human health and on our economy. It is estimated that antibiotic resistance costs more than $20 billion in direct health care costs in the U.S., with a lost productivity estimate of $35 billion on top of that.
The main reason for antibiotic resistance is the use of antibiotics, and it is thought that as much at half of all antibiotics prescribed are prescribed inappropriately.
Antibiotics are also in the food supply, given to food-producing animals to prevent, control, and treat disease — and to promote growth.
Over the past 70 years or so, antibiotics have played an important role in reducing illness and death from infectious diseases. Unfortunately, they’ve been used for so long, and for so many reasons, that infectious organisms have adapted to them, robbing the drugs of their effectiveness. These days, people with antimicrobial-resistant organisms generally face longer hospital says, increased expense, and a higher likelihood of death from the infection.
“Every time antibiotics are used in any setting, bacteria evolve by developing resistance. This process can happen with alarming speed,” said Steve Solomon, M.D., director of CDC’s Office of Antimicrobial Resistance. ”These drugs are a precious, limited resource — the more we use antibiotics today, the less likely we are to have effective antibiotics tomorrow.”
We count on antibiotics to ward of infection due to injury and medical procedures like organ transplants and other surgeries. Without them, our ability to perform procedures that save or improves lives will be seriously impaired.
“Antibiotic resistance is rising for many different pathogens that are threats to health,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “If we don’t act now, our medicine cabinet will be empty and we won’t have the antibiotics we need to save lives.”
The CDC identifies four core actions to combat antibiotic resistance:
- Prevention: Avoiding infections reduces the amount of antibiotics that have to be used and reduces the likelihood that resistance will develop. Drug-resistant infections can be prevented by immunization, infection prevention actions in healthcare settings, safe food preparation and handling, and general hand washing.
- Tracking: The CDC gathers data on antibiotic-resistant infections, causes, and whether there are particular reasons that cause some people to get a resistant infection so experts can develop strategies to prevent those infections and prevent the resistant bacteria from spreading.
- Improving Antibiotic Use/Stewardship: Up to half of antibiotic use in humans and much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary. The commitment to always use antibiotics appropriately and safely — only when they are needed to treat disease – and to choose the right antibiotics and to administer them in the right way in every case is known as antibiotic stewardship.
- Developing Drugs and Diagnostic Tests: Because antibiotic resistance occurs as part of a natural process in which bacteria evolve, it can be slowed but not completely stopped. Therefore, new antibiotics always will be needed to keep up with resistant bacteria, as will new tests to track the development of resistance.
Main Post Photo: CDC microbiologist Valerie Albrecht holds up two plates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).