September 16, 2013
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CDC: Antibiotic resistance a serious health threat, requires urgent action

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At least 23,000 people a year die in the United States as a result of antibiotic-resistant infections that affect at least 2 million people a year, according to the CDC.

“This is a very conservative estimate,” CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, said during a media briefing. “Antimicrobial resistance happens in every community and every health care facility, and if we’re not careful, the medicine chest will be empty when we go there to find a life-saving antibiotic for someone with a deadly infection.”

Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH 

Thomas Frieden

According to the Frieden, the numbers in the report are underestimated because it only accounted for infections that are resistant to multiple antibiotics as opposed to just one. In addition, when health care infections were considered, only hospital infections were included and not other health care facilities such as nursing homes, dialysis facilities and assisted-living facilities.

The various drug-resistant infections were classified into three groups: urgent, serious and concerning. The urgent infections include carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, Clostridium difficile and drug-resistant gonorrhea. Serious infections include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and nontyphoid Salmonella infections, and concerning infections include drug-resistant Streptococcus.

“Without urgent action now, we will be sent back to a time before we had effective drugs,” Frieden said. “We talk about a pre-antibiotic era and an antibiotic era. If we’re not careful, we will soon be in a post-antibiotic era. For some patients and some microbes, we are already there.”

Frieden said this is especially concerning for patients who have other medical problems, such as joint infections, organ transplants, cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and others.

He also said the pipeline of new antibiotics is nearly empty for the short term, and new drugs could be a decade away. The CDC has a four-part solution to help combat drug-resistant infections: prevent infections and their spread; conduct surveillance to track drug-resistant infections; develop new drugs; and improve antibiotic stewardship. Frieden said up to one-half of the antibiotic use in the country is unnecessary or inappropriate.

“Antibiotic stewardship is the single most important action, and we have a lot of room for improvement,” Frieden said. “By doing that, we can save lives and preserve antibiotics, which are a precious national resource.”