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U.S. Report: Drug-Resistant Superbugs Are Now Urgent Threats

Sep 18, 2013

The dangerous practice of antibiotic misuse and overuse are directly linked to antibiotic resistant diseases that can significantly disrupt the body, increasing widespread drug resistance. Because antibiotic resistance has become so widespread so quickly, there is a lack of proper medication.

Antibiotic overuse and misuse encourage harmful bacteria to remain in the body—while killing off good bacteria—all the while growing more and more resistant. This ongoing practice has enabled, and continues to enable, bacteria to outsmart antibiotics and to survive, thrive, and strengthen so that existing antibiotic drugs become powerless against their eradication, creating antibiotic resistance.

Now, least three urgent public health threats have been identified in the United States this week, according to Reuters: Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea; C. difficile, a diarrhea-causing superbug; and a class of fast-growing killer bacteria—carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) called a "nightmare."

A new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report reveals that some 2 million Americans develop serious bacterial infections each year that are resistant to at least one antibiotic; at least 23,000 people die from infections annually.

"For organism after organism, we're seeing this steady increase in resistance rates," Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, told Reuters. "We don't have new drugs about to come out of the pipeline. If and when we get new drugs, unless we do a better job of protecting them, we'll lose those, also."

Sufficient new antibiotics have not been developed and released in the past few decades and just a few drug makers are working on antibiotic drugs to replace current antibiotics, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, last March, England’s chief medical officer announced that antibiotic resistance poses a "catastrophic health threat" following the release of a World Health Organization (WHO) report that revealed that a superbug gonorrhea strain had spread to a number of European countries.

The CDC report ranks the threat of drug-resistant superbugs as either urgent, severe, and concerning, based on health and economic impacts, the number of cases, ease of transmission, and available and effective antibiotics, Reuters explained. CRE has been deemed urgent—Frieden described it as a “nightmare bacteria” that cannot be cured with even the strongest bacteria. CRE sickens 9,300 people annually and the two most common strains—carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella spp. and carbapenem-resistant E. coli—are tied to 600 deaths yearly. "For CRE, we're seeing increases from one state to 38 states in the last decade," Frieden told Reuters.

C. difficile causes life-threatening diarrhea, typically spreading through populations via contaminated equipment, healthcare workers, and visitors. Because of widespread hospital antibiotic use, C. difficile has become especially difficult to treat, killing good gut bacteria for months, and enabling C. difficile to colonize, Reuters explained. C. difficile leads to 250,000 infections and 14,000 deaths annually in the U.S., costing $1 billion in excess medical costs; deaths increased 400 percent from 2000 to 2007, according to Reuters.

Drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae leads to 246,000 U.S. cases annually and gonorrhea is becoming resistant to tetracycline, cefixime, ceftriaxone, and azithromycin, which had long been the disease’s most successful treatments.

"The three organisms that have been chosen as urgent are all increasing at an alarming rate to which therapies are limited," Dr. Edward Septimus, an infectious disease expert at HCA Healthcare System in Houston, Texas, and a member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America's Antimicrobial Resistance Workgroup, told Reuters. Septimus noted that the urgent and serious categories, which include Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and drug-resistant tuberculosis, are "certainly worthy of immediate response. I do believe it's a looming public-health crisis," he added.

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