Someone Dies Every 15 Minutes From Resistant Infections

Both Doctors and the General Public Have a Role to Play To Stop This Scourge

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Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control

The US Centers for Disease Control issued a report about antibiotic-resistant infections in the United States. It stated the following:

more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the U.S. each year, and more than 35,000 people die as a result.

That’s one person dying every 15 minutes. This is a big deal.

The reason behind the rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria is quite simple: overuse of antibiotics. When antibiotics are utilized inappropriately, such as to treat a viral infection, bacteria and fungi become smart, learning how to resist the killing effects of the antibiotics used. The end result is the development of “super-bugs,“ such as MRSA, VRE, and other such resistant bacteria.

The danger is, if someone gets infected with these resistant bacteria, it may be very difficult to treat the infection, which can lead to organ failure and even death. This is especially the case with people who have weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients who are getting chemotherapy.

Now, some progress has been made, as the report notes. At the same time, all of us need to be vigilant to help prevent the growth and spread of these resistant bacteria. For us doctors, judicious use of antibiotics is essential. While we should never hesitate to start broad-spectrum antibiotics when we suspect a life-threatening infection, we must take care to de-escalate therapy as soon as possible, so as to minimize the risk of the development of antibiotic resistance.

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Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control

For us the general public, we also have a role to play. First and foremost, we need to wash our hands. We need to wash them often, especially if we become sick. In addition, we should not badger our own doctors for antibiotics if they feel — in their expert opinion — that we do not have a bacterial infection.

Sometimes, we have an honest to God bacterial infection, for which antibiotics are indicated and appropriate. Many times, however, we do not have honest to God bacterial infections. We have viral ones, like a cold. Antibiotics will never work against viral infections. Antibiotics will only lead to the development of antibiotic-resistance which, as the report showed, has been quite deadly.

The United Nations estimates that, if nothing is done, 10 million people could die annually from resistant pathogens by 2050. We doctors have a big role to play in helping to stop this, with appropriate use of antibiotics and strict infection control policies. We the general public also need to do our part, as well. Together, we need to do all that we can to prevent this grim prediction to become reality.

NY Times featured Pulmonary and Critical Care Specialist | Physician Leader | Author and Blogger | His latest book is “Code Blue,” a medical thriller.

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