Antimicrobial Resistance Poses Growing Health Threat: CDC

Antibiotic resistance increases the economic burden on the entire health care system. Resistant infections are often more severe, leading to longer hospital stays and increased costs for treatment.

Millions of Americans take antimicrobial drugs each year to fight illness, trusting they will work. However, the bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens are fighting back. Within the past couple of years alone, new drug-resistant patterns have emerged and resistance has increased—a trend that demands urgent action to preserve the last lines of defense against many of these germs.

"People assume that antibiotics will always be there to fight the worst infections, but antimicrobial resistance is robbing us of that certainty and new drug-resistant pathogens are emerging," said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. "It's not enough to hope that we'll have effective drugs to combat these infections. We must all act now to safeguard this important resource."

Antimicrobial resistance—when germs change in a way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of drugs to treat them—is a growing global problem. Plasmodium falciparum, the most dangerous of the malaria parasites, has developed resistance to nearly all of the currently available antimalarial drugs in parts of Southeast Asia. Sporadic cases of pandemic H1N1 flu have shown resistance to oseltamivir, one of only two antivirals that work against it. In the United States, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA, remains a problem in many health care settings. Drug-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae, previously seen in a limited number of hospitals, has now been reported in at least 36 states. Gonorrhea is now showing potential for resistance to cephalosporins, the only recommended antibiotic left to treat this common sexually transmitted infection.

Antibiotic resistance increases the economic burden on the entire health care system. Resistant infections are often more severe, leading to longer hospital stays and increased costs for treatment. According to the latest available data, antibiotic resistance in the United States costs an estimated $20 billion a year in excess health care costs, $35 million in other societal costs and more than 8 million additional days that people spend in the hospital.

As part of this effort, CDC—in collaboration with the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and other partners—recently released a public health action plan laying out 11 key goals to combat antimicrobial resistance in the areas of surveillance, prevention and control, research, and product development. The plan is designed to facilitate communication and coordination as well to provide guidance on the most pressing resistance issues and how to address them.

Appropriate use of existing antibiotics can limit the spread of antibiotic resistance, preserving antibiotics for the future. CDC advocates for the appropriate use of antibiotics through its Get Smart programs focused on community and health care settings.

The public can also play a role in reducing the threat of antimicrobial resistance by not pressuring their health care providers for antibiotics, not sharing or saving antibiotics, and taking antibiotics exactly as prescribed, including taking the entire amount prescribed. Health care providers can prevent antimicrobial resistance by ensuring prompt diagnosis and treatment of infections, prescribing antibiotics appropriately, and following infection prevention techniques to prevent the spread of drug-resistant infections in health care facilities.

To learn more about antimicrobial resistance by disease and setting, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2011/f0407_antimicrobialresistance.html. For more information on CDC's antimicrobial resistance efforts, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/index.html.

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