THURSDAY, Nov. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Knowing when to take
antibiotics -- and when not to -- can help fight the rise of deadly
"superbugs," say experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control
About half of antibiotics prescribed are unnecessary or
inappropriate, the agency says, and overuse has helped create
bacteria that don't respond, or respond less effectively, to the
drugs used to fight them.
"Antibiotics are a shared resource that has become a scarce resource," said Dr. Lauri Hicks, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC. She's also medical director a of new program, Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work, that had its launch this week. "Everyone has a role to play in preventing the spread of antibiotic resistance," Hicks said.
The stakes are high, said Dr. Arjun Srinivasan, CDC's associate
director for health care-associated infection prevention programs.
Almost every type of bacteria has become stronger and less
responsive to antibiotic treatment, he said.
The CDC is urging Americans to use the drugs properly to help
prevent the global problem of antibiotic resistance. To that end,
the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), numerous national
medical and scientific associations, as well as state and local
health departments have collaborated on the CDC's
Get Smart initiative.
Most strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are still found in
health care settings, such as hospitals and nursing homes. Yet
superbugs, including MRSA (methicillin-resistant
staphylococcus aureus) -- which kills about 19,000 Americans a year -- are increasingly found in community settings, such as health clubs, schools, and workplaces, said Hicks.
Community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA), a strain that affects
healthy people outside of hospitals, made headlines in 2008, when
it killed a Florida high school football player.
Referring to recent reports of sinusitis caused by MRSA, Hicks
said that "people who would normally be treated with an oral
antibiotic are requiring more toxic medications or, in some
instances, admission to a hospital. We've seen this with pneumonia,
too, and I worry we'll start to see it with other types of
infections as well."
Other infections that resist antibiotic treatment include:
Just as antibiotic resistance is rising, the antibiotic arsenal
is shrinking. The FDA has approved just 10 new antibiotics since
1998. "But in our opinion, it's as important to improve
[antibiotic] use as it is to develop new drugs," said
Antibiotic resistance has two main causes, said Philip Tierno,
director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York
University's Langone Medical Center. The first is
"About six billion prescriptions are written annually in this country, about half of them for antibiotics," he said. "Of those written for antibiotics, the CDC thinks about half are improper."
Second, food animals such as chickens, cattle and hogs are given
massive amounts of antibiotics, mainly to spur growth. "Of the 25
million pounds of antibiotics given to livestock per year, only
three million pounds are given to treat disease," said Tierno.
Earlier this year, concerns about antibiotic resistance led the FDA
to recommend that farmers stop using antibiotics to promote growth
To protect antibiotics' effectiveness, the CDC recommends the
For more about treating viruses, see the
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