PhotoThe widespread use of antibiotics in humans and animals is contributing to a rising tide of bacteria that are resistant to modern medicines, taking at least 23,000 lives annually, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

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.”

Infections classified as urgent threats include carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), drug-resistant gonorrhea, and Clostridium difficile, a serious diarrheal infection usually associated with antibiotic use.  C. difficile causes about 250,000 hospitalizations and at least 14,000 deaths every year in the United States.

The over-use of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance. Up to 50 percent of all the antibiotics prescribed for people are not needed or are not prescribed appropriately. 

Antibiotics are also commonly used in food-producing animals to prevent, control, and treat disease, and to promote growth.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently proposed guidance describing a pathway for using these drugs only when medically necessary and targeting their use to only address diseases and health problems.

Bacteria evolve

“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.”

The loss of effective antibiotic treatments will also undermine treatment of infectious complications in patients with other diseases. Many medical advances—joint replacements, organ transplants, cancer therapy, rheumatoid arthritis therapy – are dependent on the ability to fight infections with antibiotics. If the ability to effectively treat those infections is lost, the ability to safely offer people many of the life-saving and life-improving modern medical advances will be lost with it.

The CDC report outlines four ways to fight antibiotic resistance:

  • Preventing infections;
  • Tracking resistance patterns;
  • Improving the use of today's antibiotics; and 
  • Developing new antibiotics and diagnostic tools.

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