The seriousness of the superbug situation
According to the 2013 CDC report, Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, these new antibiotic-resistant superbugs cause two million illness each year in the U.S. and 23,000 deaths. That puts these antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria in the top 10 causes of adult deaths in the U.S., according to CDC death statistics.
The CDC report ranks the superbug threats into three categories: urgent, serious, and concerning, as measured by seven factors: health impact, economic impact, how common the infection is, a 10-year projection of how common it could become, how easily it spreads, availability of effective antibiotics, and barriers to prevention. Infections classified in the report as urgent threats include:
- Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE)
- The drug-resistant gonorrhea strain
- Clostridium difficile, a serious diarrheal infection usually associated with antibiotic use.
The cost of not solving the superbug dilemma is not just about the risk to those victims of the bacteria but also economic risks. These antibiotic-resistant infections add significant cost to our overburdened U.S. health care system. The CDC reports that antibiotic resistance adds $20 billion in excess direct health care costs. Factor in the additional costs to society for lost productivity and the superbug economic damage skyrockets to $35 billion annually.
Why this is happening
Compounding this issue is that, whether gradually or quickly, every bug naturally develops resistance to every new bacteria-fighting drug that comes on the market to fight them, leaving us evermore at risk of contracting an illness for which there is no cure.
Another key problem is that any antibacterial drug you take will not only kill the targeted bacteria but also the good bacteria that we need for a healthy internal microbiome. This leaves us more vulnerable to a recurrence or two other strains of bacteria. CDC estimates suggest that 50 percent of all the antibiotics prescribed for people are not needed or are not prescribed appropriately.
Take these four steps to halt superbug resistance
- Prevent infection. The best way to prevent the spread of resistance is to prevent infection in the first place. Drug-resistant infections can be prevented by immunization, infection prevention actions in healthcare settings, safe food preparation and handling, and general hand washing.
- Practice antibiotic stewardship. We need to reduce the use of antibiotics to only where they are medically needed/called for. For example, antibiotics are widely used in food-producing animals, which puts not just the animals at risk but those who consume the antibiotic-infested meat, eggs, dairy products, etc. every time antibiotics are used, the bacteria will begin to evolve and develop resistance. If we use antibiotics less today, we will have more access to them when we need them tomorrow.
- Track resistance patterns. CDC gathers data on antibiotic-resistant infections that cause some people to get a resistant infection. Experts can use this info to develop infection prevention strategies and prevent the resistant bacteria from spreading.
- Develop new antibiotics and diagnostic tests. This is a call out from the CDC to drug manufacturers. Antibiotic resistance is a natural, inevitable occurrence. It can never be stopped, only slowed. Thus, we will always need new antibiotics to stay ahead of drug-resistant bacteria.
See the full CDC report on superbugs for more information about drug resistance and the serious impacts it has on human health, or visit www.cdc.gov/drugresistance.