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ATLANTA — Antibiotic-resistant bacteria sicken more than 2 million people per year and kill at least 23,000, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And the costs go beyond human health and life. According to a study by Tufts University, direct healthcare costs and costs to society for lost productivity from the infections could be as high as $55 billion per year.
The culprit, the CDC said, is misuse of antibiotics. Antibiotics are the most commonly prescribed drugs used in human medicine, but up to 50% of those prescribed are not needed or are not effective as prescribed, and many more are used in food-producing animals to promote growth, despite that being unnecessary.
"Every time antibiotics are used in any setting, bacteria evolve by developing resistance," CDC Office of Antimicrobial Resistance director Steve Solomon said. "This process can happen with alarming speed. These drugs are a precious, limited resource — the more we use antibiotics today, the less likely we are to have effective antibiotics tomorrow."
The problem has become particularly severe for such bacteria as gonorrhea, carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae and Clostridium difficile. C. difficile, a severe infection that causes diarrhea, causes about 250,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths per year in the United States.
"Antibiotic resistance is rising for many different pathogens that are threats to health," CDC director Tom Frieden said. "If we don't act now, our medicine cabinet will be empty, and we won't have the antibiotics we need to save lives."
In addition to making people more susceptible to infections, antibiotic resistance could make specialty drug care more difficult. Many treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, cancers, organ transplants and joint replacements are dependent on the ability to fight infections with antibiotics.
Antibiotic resistance is a natural part of the evolutionary process of bacteria, the CDC said, and it can't be stopped, but it can be slowed down. To address the problem, the CDC recommends such strategies as preventing infections, tracking antibiotic-resistant infections, improving use and stewardship of antibiotics and developing drugs and diagnostic tests.