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Report: Antibiotic-Resistant ‘Superbugs’ the Health Crisis of This Generation

Survey reveals 41% of Americans unaware of antibiotic resistance

Decades of inaction to curb the overuse of life-saving antibiotics by physicians, dentists, patients, and farmers has created hard-to-treat “superbugs” that are spreading and growing stronger, with dire consequences, according to Consumer Reports. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the unrestrained use of antibiotics sickens at least 2.25 million Americans each year and kills another 37,000 people.

“The Rise of Superbugs” is featured in the August issue of Consumer Reports magazine and is the first report in a three-part investigative series focused on America’s antibiotic crisis. This introductory piece explains how the overuse and misuse of antibiotics is leading to the strengthening and spread of dangerous infections that are becoming resistant to these drugs. For example, resistant bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) were once confined to hospitals but have now spread to otherwise healthy people in the community.

The remaining journal articles will examine the presence of “superbugs” in America’s hospitals and the role antibiotics play in the U.S. meat supply.

“The emergence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs is a major threat to the health and well-being of millions of Americans,” said Lisa Gill, prescription drugs editor at Consumer Reports. “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.”

A new nationally representative survey from Consumer Reports has shown poor awareness among Americans about antibiotic resistance and widespread misinformation about its causes, with 41% of adults saying they were unaware of antibiotic resistance.

In addition, the overuse of antibiotics can kill “good” bacteria, leaving people susceptible to other difficult-to-treat bacterial infections, such as Clostridium difficile, a common cause of hospital-acquired diarrhea.

Consumer Reports says the crisis is compounded because the pipeline for new antibiotics has slowed to a trickle, with many currently used broad-spectrum antibiotics introduced 30 years ago. “We absolutely need new antibiotics,” said Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumer Reports’ Safe Patient Project. “But we have to make sure that we don’t lower the bar on standards for drug approval and that all new antibiotics have met premarket assessments for safety and efficacy.”

Consumer Reports recommends specific steps for reducing the use of antibiotics and curbing the development of drug-resistant bacteria, including:

  • Patients should think twice about the need for antibiotics and should not ask doctors to prescribe them. Consumer Reports’ survey found that one out of every five people who had received a prescription for an antibiotic in the last year said they had asked their health practitioner to write it.
  • Doctors and dentists must stop overprescribing antibiotics when they aren’t absolutely necessary. The CDC estimates that up to half of all antibiotic prescriptions are written for inappropriate uses, such as for colds and the flu.
  • Patients should request targeted drugs. When possible, doctors should order cultures to identify the bacteria that have caused an infection and should prescribe a drug that targets that bug.
  • Doctors should reserve broad-spectrum antibiotics, such as ciprofloxacin, ceftriaxone, and levofloxacin, for hard-to-treat infections. These drugs are more likely to breed resistant bacteria and to wipe out protective bacteria in the body.
  • Consumers should use antibiotic creams sparingly. Even antibiotics applied to the skin can lead to resistant bacteria. Individuals should use over-the-counter ointments containing bacitracin and neomycin only if dirt remains after cleaning with soap and water.
  • Everyone should avoid infections in the first place. That means staying up-to-date on vaccinations. And it means washing 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. Individuals should avoid antibacterial hand soaps and cleaners, which may promote resistance.

Source: Consumer Reports; June 25, 2015.

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