Antibiotic-resistant infections are a growing threat in the United States. Every year, more than 2 million Americans become infected with germs – often called “superbugs” – that are immune to the effects of traditional antibacterial medicine. And at least 23,000 of them die of the infections each year.
In the first move designed specifically to combat the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced an initiative to track and classify the severity of these so-called “superbugs.”
“Antibiotic resistance is rising for many different pathogens that are threats to health. If we don’t act now, our medicine cabinet will be empty and we won’t have the antibiotics we need to save lives,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, said in a statement.
How exactly do antibiotic-resistant bacteria grow and develop? As the Missouri Department of Health explains, "Every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed, but resistant germs may be left to grow and multiply. Repeated and improper uses of antibiotics are primary causes of the increase in drug-resistant bacteria."
In order to combat the rise of resistant germs in the United States, the CDC has determined four main courses of action. First, the CDC hopes to work with hospitals and patients to prevent infections in the first place.
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Secondly, the CDC plans to gather data on all antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria and rank them according to their severity, allowing the CDC to more easily track which strains of bacteria are causing the most damage. Bacteria will be ranked as urgent, serious or concerning. So far, the CDC has identified three urgent threats: Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Clostridium difficile and CRE bacteria.
The most important way to fight antibiotic resistant “superbugs” comes in what the CDC calls the stewardship phase. The largest problem contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs is the overprescription of antibiotics in general. If fewer patients who do not need antibiotics take such medicines, the CDC can massively slow the growth of bacteria resistant to the drugs.
“The use of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world. Antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed drugs used in human medicine. However, up to half of antibiotic use in humans and much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary or inappropriate,” read the CDC’s announcement.
Finally, the CDC plans to continue working to develop new types of antibiotics and other medicines that can effectively counter germs which are resistant to existing drugs.
"It's not too late," Frieden said. "There are things we can do that can stop the spread of drug resistance. We need to scale up the implementation of those strategies."