It's a scenario straight out of a doomsday novel: deadly bacteria spreading across the globe faster than scientists can find new drugs to fight them.
If only it were fiction.
"We are right now at the last line of defense for treating these resistant bacteria," Steve Solomon, M.D., recently told Hospitals & Health Networks senior writer Paul Barr. If we don't stop the spread, "we are going to go over a cliff and fall back into the situation we were in during the pre-antibiotic era, when there were no treatments left for the very dangerous infections."
Solomon is director of the Office of Antimicrobial Resistance at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has declared this "Get Smart About Antibiotics Week" and issued a report describing antibiotic-resistance threats in the United States today, the three types of bacteria that currently pose the biggest menace, and what hospitals, health systems, health care professionals and even consumers can do.
The report, which you can access here, points out that every year in the United States, 2 million people become infected with resistant bacteria and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result. Many others die from conditions complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection. Infections can happen anywhere, but are most common in health care settings such as hospitals and nursing homes.
In a Q&A in the November issue of H&HN and in a podcast last Friday in H&HN Daily, Solomon outlined four core strategies to prevent antibiotic-resistance. In short, they include: Prevent the spread of resistance in hospitals and other health care settings; track the infections on the local, state, regional, national and international levels; stop the misuse and overuse of antibiotics; and develop new antibiotics and diagnostic tests.
"Right now, resistance is spreading faster than our ability to develop new antibiotics," Solomon said. "And so the best-case scenario is we have a dramatic reduction in spread, and we have the time to allow for new antibiotics to come to market." You can listen to the podcast here.
As part of "Get Smart" Week, a CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics report, released Tuesday, condemns the overuse of antibiotics for certain common infections in kids.The organizations note that "every year 10 million children risk side effects from antibiotic prescriptions that are unlikely to help their upper respiratory conditions. Many of these infections are caused by viruses, which are not helped by antibiotics." The report builds on recent AAP guidance and promotes responsible antibiotic prescribing for three common upper respiratory tract infections in children: ear infections, sinus infections and sore throats. Learn more here.
If you think the CDC warnings are overly dramatic, consider a report published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases on Nov. 17. It examines the global threat of antibiotic-resistance and argues that high-level, coordinated international action is necessary to combat what it terms "this urgent danger." The report ends with a "call to action" by Otto Cars, a professor at Uppsala University in Sweden, who, in a Lancet press release, issued this dire warning: "Within just a few years, we might be faced with unimaginable setbacks, medically, socially and economically, unless real and unprecedented global coordinated actions to improve surveillance and transform the way antibiotics are regulated and developed are taken immediately."