Over-prescribing of opioids reached a full-blown crisis and has been recognized as such. America’s overuse of antibiotics is a crisis as well – a deadly one.
Every 15 minutes, someone in the United States dies of a superbug that has learned to outsmart even our most sophisticated antibiotics, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's about 35,000 deaths each year from drug-resistant infections.
The report places five drug-resistant superbugs on the CDC's "urgent threat" list -- two more germs than were on the CDC's list in 2013, the last time the agency issued a report on antibiotic resistance.
Genetic research shows germs have become especially adept at teaching each other how to outwit antibiotics. "Some miracle drugs no longer perform miracles," according to the report.
The report also notes that while superbug infections in hospitals are down, some infections caught elsewhere -- anywhere in the community -- have increased.
"This is a problem that ultimately affects all of us," said Michael Craig, a CDC senior adviser on antibiotic resistance, in as Associated Press report. "It literally has the potential to affect every person on the planet."
And that means every person needs insight on how to prevent becoming a superbug victim.
Greg Frank, Ph.D., is the director of infectious disease policy at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. He offers four steps:
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1. Avoid antibacterial products: Soap and body wash that contain "antibacterial" ingredients sound healthy. But they aren't.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined that antibacterial soaps are no better at preventing illness than regular soap and water. These added ingredients just turn people's bodies into breeding grounds for antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.
Antibacterial cleaning products, meanwhile, leave behind chemicals designed to wipe out bacteria. However, these chemicals aren't 100% effective. The surviving bacteria may evolve to become resistant to antimicrobials -- posing a threat to humans' safety.
2. Take antibiotics appropriately: When prescribed antibiotics, patients should always complete the full course of treatment, even if they feel better halfway through. Stopping treatment early allows some bacteria to live on and evolve.
Patients should also only take antibiotics when absolutely necessary. Many often clamor for antibiotics as soon as they catch colds, even though most colds -- along with the flu, bronchitis, and the stomach flu -- are caused by viruses, which antibiotics can't treat.
Thirty percent of antibiotics prescribed in the United States are unnecessary, according to a study in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. Only one in 10 sore-throat patients actually needs antibiotics, but six in 10 receive them.
By overusing antibiotics or not taking them as directed, Americans inadvertently accelerate the spread of superbugs. Patients can exercise caution and only use antibiotics as a last resort. For instance, folks should confirm they actually have strep throat before taking amoxicillin. Otherwise, they may increase their risk of resistant infections down the line.
3. Get vaccinated: It's crucial that people stay up to date on their shots. A single vaccine prevents the same infections as a whole regimen of antibiotics.
Consider the bacteria responsible for many ear and sinus infections, Streptococcus pneumoniae. If every child in the world was vaccinated for that bacteria, the World Health Organization estimates it would prevent 11 million days of antibiotic use every year.
4. Tell Congress to support the DISARM Act: Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Bob Casey, D-Pa., are sponsors of the Developing an Innovative Strategy for Antimicrobial Resistance, or DISARM, Act. The bipartisan bill would incentivize doctors and hospitals to use newer antibiotics, instead of older less-effective ones. The proposal would also require hospitals to start stewardship programs to monitor how and when they administer antibiotics. Such programs have proven effective at reducing the amount of unnecessary prescriptions that doctors write.
Frank says the DISARM Act “is an essential first step in preventing the misuse of antibiotics.”