Antibiotic-resistant superbugs: 'Health crisis of this generation'

A new Consumer Reports series examines the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, calling the dangerous infections the "health crisis of this generation."

Overuse and misuse of life-saving antibiotics has led to the spread of infections that are now impervious to the medications. As a result, at least two million Americans each year become infected with bacteria resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The crisis is no longer "looming," it is here now and if the healthcare industry fails to take action immediately, the country will risk the gains expeirenced in modern medicine, Lisa Gill, prescription drugs editor of the magazine, told FierceHealthcare in an exclusive interview this morning. 

Surprisingly, Gill said, 41 percent of adults surveyed by the publication are unaware of the antibiotic resistance problem. Therefore, she said, the first part of the series is meant to educate the public about the dangers of these infections. Parts two and three will examine the presence of superbugs in America's hospitals and the role antibiotics play in the U.S. meat supply. The second installment of the series will appear in the August issue and will include information on infection rates at hospitals. 

Although the CDC efforts to combat superbugs are monumental and the White House committment to funding is substantial, Gill said hospital executives can't wait for the agency and administration to dictate policies. Stewardship in hospitals, outpatient settings, clinics and physician practices must happen today, she said.

 "The problem is fixable, but we must act quickly and work together to change our behaviors to preserve the effectiveness of these life-saving drugs," Gill said in a statement announcing the series.

Hospitals leaders and physicians can help to reduce the use of antibiotics, the publication noted, by taking the following actions:

  • Stop over-prescribing antibiotics when they aren't absolutely necessary. The CDC estimates that up to half of all antibiotic prescriptions are written for inappropriate uses, or for illnesses they can't help, such as for colds and the flu.
  • Order cultures to identify the bacteria that cause patients' infections and then prescribe drugs that target the bug.
  • Reserve so-called "broad-spectrum" antibiotics for hard-to-treat infections. These drugs attack multiple bacteria types at once and are more likely to breed resistant bacteria and wipe out protective bacteria in the body.
  • Avoid infections in the first place. Wash hands thoroughly and regularly, especially before preparing or eating food, before and after treating a cut or wound, and after using the bathroom, sneezing, coughing, and handling garbage. Plain soap and water is best. Avoid antibacterial hand soaps and cleaners, which may promote resistance.

To learn more:
- read the announcement
- here's the CDC information
- check out Consumer Reports' first installment of the series