Describing 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 2 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.
The report is a call to action for hospitalists, who are in a 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. She also says the medical community cannot expect that new treatments will become available to fight all of these new infections.
—Robert Orenstein, DO, infectious disease expert, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
“All of the drugs also are going to have some gaps in their range of activity” 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 infections a year and 600 deaths; and Neisseria gonorrhoeae, at 246,000 infections.
These bacteria are considered an “immediate public health threat that requires urgent and aggressive action.”
Twelve pathogens in the second category, described as “a serious concern,” require “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 decreasing, and because there are antibiotics that still work on MRSA.
Another infection that should be on hospitalists’ radar is Streptococcus pneumoniae. A new vaccine is helping to decrease the number of these infections, but hospitalists should be vigilant about infections that could escape the vaccine and become resistant, Dr. Patel says.
Ketino Kobaidze, MD, assistant professor at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta and a member of the antimicrobial stewardship and infectious disease control committees at Emory University Hospital Midtown, says the most important thing for hospitalists “is to follow up with whatever you’re ordering and notice right away what happens with these tests. If it’s positive or negative, redirect your care.”
Robert Orenstein, DO, an infectious disease expert at Mayo Clinic, praises the report and says hospitalists have a key role to play. “We need to educate them and build systems that target antimicrobials to the infecting agents and limit their use,” he says. TH
Tom Collins is a freelance writer in South Florida.