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Experts Address Threat From ‘Superbugs’

Harvard panel says dangers from ineffective antibiotics continue to rise (February 9)

Experts participating in a forum discussion at the Harvard School of Public Health have recommended a combination of hospital stewardship programs and community education to fight antibiotic misuse, as well as legal changes that would allow pharmaceutical companies to profit longer from new antibiotics to provide economic incentives to develop new drugs.

Last spring, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sounded an alarm over drug resistance, highlighting three organisms whose threat was urgent: Clostridium difficile, which causes intestinal infections and kills 14,000 people annually; Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which causes gonorrhea, strains of which are resistant to any antibiotic; and carbapenum-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, which causes bloodstream infections.

To fight problems in antibiotic usage, the panelists suggested establishing stewardship programs at hospitals to raise awareness and to foster proper handling and prescribing of antibiotics. In the community, the panelists suggested enhanced monitoring for drug-resistant infections and more education so that consumers are aware of the dangers from drug resistance.

The panelists said that consumers can help by not pestering physicians for unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions, by completing the drug regimens they do receive, and by taking simple steps, such as washing their hands, to stay healthy in the first place.

The other half of the solution, the panelists said, is to increase the supply of antibiotic drugs. Because financial incentives to develop antibiotics are poor, the pipeline of new medications to fight bacteria that are resistant to existing drugs is drying up. The panel suggested extending the time that a pharmaceutical company has exclusive rights to profit from a discovery. This would allow them to make money on a new drug longer so that they can recoup the research and development dollars that go into creating a new antibiotic.

Source: Harvard University; February 9, 2014.

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