Describing formally for the first time the enormity of the problem of antibiotic resistance and warning of the “potentially catastrophic consequences of inaction,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced in September that more than two million people a year are sickened by infections that are resistant to treatment with antibiotics.
Moreover, the CDC says 23,000 people die as a result.
And because those numbers are based only on the data available—and the agency assumes that many infections are not captured—the CDC says its estimate is a conservative one and the real number is probably higher.
The report is a call to action for hospitalists, who are in an almost ideal position to participate in efforts to prevent infections and control their spread once they’re discovered, says Jean Patel, PhD, deputy director of the office of antimicrobial resistance at the CDC.
“I think it’s a sobering number, and it indicates how far we have to go in combating this problem of antimicrobial resistance,” Dr. Patel says.
The medical community, she adds, cannot expect that new treatments will become available to fight all of these new infections.
“All of the drugs also are going to have some gaps in their range of activity, so there’s no drug coming that’s going to be effective against all the antimicrobial-resistant drugs that we face today,” Dr. Patel explains. “For that reason, we’re sounding the alarm that it’s important to pay attention to infection control and antibiotic stewardship practices.”
The report, “Antibiotic Resistance Threats to the United States, 2013,” creates three categories of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. In the “urgent” tier are Clostridium difficile, which the CDC estimates is responsible for 250,000 infections a year and 14,000 deaths; carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, estimated to be responsible for 9,000 drug-resistant infections a year and 600 deaths; and drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae, at 246,000 drug-resistant infections.
These bacteria are considered an “immediate public health threat that requires urgent and aggressive action.”
There are 12 pathogens in the second category, described as “a serious concern” requiring “prompt and sustained action to ensure the problem does not grow.”
Of particular interest to hospitalists in this group, Dr. Patel says, is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The CDC estimates that more than 80,000 severe MRSA infections and more than 11,000 deaths occur in the U.S. every year.
MRSA was not ranked as an “urgent” threat only because the number of infections is actually decreasing, especially in healthcare institutions, and because there are antibiotics that still work on MRSA.