Nightmare superbugs highlight importance of hospital antibiotic stewardship

As superbugs resistant to even last-resort antibiotics reach the United States, stewardship programs for such medications are more important than ever--but fewer than half of U.S. hospitals actively employ them.

A Pennsylvania woman was diagnosed in May with a “nightmare” strain of E. coli resistant even to colistin, now used as a last resort medication for infections. Researchers, according to the Los Angeles Times, studied a sample of the bacteria and found its resistance gene was attached to a plasmid--a tiny, loop of DNA that could be transferred to other E. coli bacteria as well.

The news signaled the end of antibiotics as a major medical weapon, however medical experts caution that the healthcare industry still has time to develop a strategy, according to the Times article. But, despite efforts to curb unnecessary antibiotic use and to track the growth of these superbugs, it is only a matter of time before the bacteria win. “We are seeing more drug-resistant infections,” William P. Hanage, a Harvard University infectious disease epidemiologist, told the Times. “And people will die.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer guidelines on antibiotic stewardship, but only 39 percent of U.S. hospitals actively use such a program, according to an article in the Union-Bulletin, a newspaper based in Walla Walla, Washington. Recent study data suggests that 30 percent of antibiotics prescribed in the U.S. are inappropriate, FierceHealthcare previously reported, making such programs even more necessary.

Walla Walla General Hospital, according to the Union-Bulletin, recently implemented a formal antibiotic stewardship program, though many of the components were previously in place. The hospital tracks patient history to reveal recent prescriptions and treatments or facilities they’ve been to, which can give clues to bugs to which they may have been exposed. The hospital does not have access to an expert locally, according to the article, but by the end of the summer a teleconferencing system will be available to tap into that resource.

Hospitals looking to implement an antibiotic stewardship, or strengthen an existing one, can find a number of valuable resources online, including a playbook from the National Quality Forum, FierceHealthcare previously reported. The CDC’s guidelines are also available at the organization’s website.

- read the Times article
- here’s the Union-Bulletin coverage