Biggest Public Health Threat We Face
The consequences of a longstanding over-reliance on antibiotics
You’re sick, you want to feel better — and you hope your doctor will prescribe antibiotics. Some people even demand their doctor do so.
But being able to fight off potentially deadly infections later in life may depend on what you’re taking now.
Health officials are emphatic: Use drugs sparingly.
“Drug resistant bacteria are arguably the leading public health threat that the human race faces,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior associate professor and clinical assistant professor at the Center for Health Security at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year, at least two million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, including nearly a quarter of a million cases in hospitals. Some 23,000 people die as a result.
The federal government is cutting payments to 769 hospitals with high rates of patient injuries and the spread of antibiotic-resistant germs.
Timely reporting of any superbug outbreak is essential to save lives. Yet our country lacks a unified system for reporting and tracking outbreaks, as Reuters reported on the issue.
Hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities are supposed to report suspected outbreaks of infectious disease, drug-resistant or otherwise, within one business day or less. Most states, however, do not provide an explicit definition of the term “outbreak.” Health care providers are left instead to determine when they’re experiencing an increase in a particular infection beyond the usual number.
“It is difficult for a potential patient to get a full picture,” Adalja told LifeZette. “All hospitals are going to have some level of resistant bacteria and larger referral centers — the complex patients they treat may have deceptively high rates. Some states have public reporting, which can help, but it is not a straightforward calculation and has many nuances.”
The federal government announced this week it is cutting payments to 769 hospitals with high rates of patient injuries, and for the first time, the assessment included the spread of antibiotic-resistant germs. The punishments come in the third year of Medicare penalties for hospitals where patients most frequently suffer from potentially avoidable complications, including various types of infections, blood clots, bed sores and falls.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which can cause pneumonia and bloodstream and skin infections, and Clostridium difficile, known as C. diff., are terms worth knowing. But infectious disease experts believe new strains of germs, resistant to all existing antibiotics, will follow.
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What can you do to protect your family?
“Patients should ask any health care provider who enters their room if they washed their hands. They should also question whether any use of an antibiotic is truly justified and probe the physician for why it is needed,” said Adalia. “Inappropriate use of antibiotics exacerbates this problem.”