WASHINGTON: More than 2 million Americans develop antibiotic-resistant infections each year and about 23,000 die as a result, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Government health officials fear those numbers, which are conservative estimates, could worsen as overuse and misuse of antibiotics cause more bacteria to develop resistance to the drugs.
“If we’re not careful, the medicine chest will be empty when we go there to look for a lifesaving antibiotic for someone with a deadly infection,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC. “But if we act now, we can preserve these medications while we continue to work on development of new medications.”
The new report, Antibiotic Threats in the United States, 2013, is the first comprehensive analysis of the nation’s 18 most serious drug-resistant bacterial threats.
Among the three “urgent” threats is carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE. Known as the nightmare bacteria because of its high mortality rate, CRE is resistant to nearly all antibiotics and spreads its drug resistance to other bacteria that otherwise would be vulnerable to vaccines.
CRE infects about 9,300 people a year and kills an estimated 610, the CDC estimates.
Another “urgent” bacterial threat is Clostridium difficile, which attacks patients mainly in health-care settings. C-diff is a diarrheal infection usually associated with antibiotic use. It infects about 250,000 people and kills at least 14,000 annually.
The 12 bacterial threats rated as “serious” include the superbug Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which infects 80,000 people a year and kills 11,000.
The CDC estimates that up to half of all prescribed antibiotics are unnecessary. The agency stresses that every time a patient takes an antibiotic they don’t need, they increase their risk of developing a resistant infection in the future.