Antibiotic-Resistant ‘Superbugs’ Pose Bigger Threat Than Earlier Estimated, CDC Finds

Doctors and public health officials have increasingly sounded the alarm about antibiotic resistant “superbugs” and their growing threat. Now, a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that previous data has underestimated the number of people infected and killed by drug-resistant germs.

According to the CDC’s new report, 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. Experts say that the study has created a new national baseline figure for infections and deaths from bacteria and fungi that have developed a resistance to drugs designed to kill them.

In 2013, the CDC published the first AR (Antibiotic Resistant) Threats Report. It stated that at least 2 million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection each year in the U.S. , and at least 23,000 people die.

“Dedicated prevention and infection control efforts in the U.S. are working to reduce the number of infections and deaths caused by antibiotic-resistant germs, but the number of people facing antibiotic resistance is still too high. More action is needed to fully protect people,” states the CDC in a statement about the report released Wednesday.

The overuse and misuse of antibiotics are the leading causes of antimicrobial resistance, public health officials worldwide say. World Antibiotic Awareness Week, Nov. 18-24, aims to “increase awareness of global antibiotic resistance and to encourage best practices among the general public, health workers and policy makers to avoid the further emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance,” according to a statement by the World Health Organization.

The new CDC report lists 18 antibiotic-resistant bacteria and fungi into three categories based on level of concern to human health—urgent, serious, and concerning.

Five microorganisms represent the most urgent threats, the CDC states. Three of them are already known to public health officials as dangerous. They include: Clostridioides difficile (C. diff.), drug-resistant gonorrhea, and Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE). They are sometimes referred to as “nightmare bacteria” because of their ability to resist nearly all antibiotics and because they kill up to half of patients who acquire bloodstream infections from them. The trio also have the ability to transfer their antibiotic resistance to other associated bacteria, potentially making the others untreatable as well.

Two more germs were added as the most urgent since the CDC’s first report in 2013. They are Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, and drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae, another sexually transmitted infection. The report classifies 11 additional bacteria and fungi as serious threats, two as concerning, and four others are on the CDC’s “watch list.”

Antibiotics are only effective against certain infections caused by bacteria. However, about 30 percent of antibiotics prescribed in the United States each year, or an estimated 47 million prescriptions, are unnecessary, the CDC says.

“Overuse of antibiotics is a big problem,” said Scarlet Constant, M.D., a pediatrician affiliated with Baptist Health South Florida. “It causes bacterial resistance, so the common bacteria we’ve always had around are morphing and changing and becoming resistant to the antibiotics that we’ve created. And we haven’t created any new antibiotics in many years, so it’s very scary.”

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