CDC: Superbugs kill 23,000 people per year

Agency rates three drug-resistant bacteria as 'urgent' problems

More than two million U.S. residents develop antibiotic-resistant infections every year, and about 1% die as a result, according to a CDC study published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

  • How one hospital won a Quality Compass award for reducing infectionsThis 2013 case study explains how Memorial Hospital of South Bend reduced CLABSIs by 77% from 2010 to 2011.

Report findings

The report studied 18 drug-resistant bacteria and fungi and ranked them according to how lethal they could be if humans were to develop an infection from them. It used data from five disease-tracking systems nationwide.

According to the report, three of the drug-resistant bacteria and fungi were "concerning" and another 12 were considered "serious." But CDC warned that the final three were ranked "urgent" and providers had few treatment options for humans who contracted them:

The report found that CRE—also called "nightmare bacteria"—causes about 9,000 health care-associated infections annually in 44 states. The report also found that deaths related to C. diff have risen more than five times between 2000 and 2007.

Researchers cited several reasons for the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including excessive use of antibiotics and frequent use of antibiotics in food-producing animals. Humans can be infected with drug-resistant germs through food consumed from these animals, the report noted.

The report stated, "Up to half of antibiotic use in humans and much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe."

Experts: More must be done

The study's researchers noted that the number of U.S. residents who die annually from such infections is lower than previous estimates; one CDC report in 2007 had suggested that 100,000 patients die from hospital-acquired infections per year.

However, Steven Solomon—director of CDC's office of antimicrobial resistance—called the new report's number a "floor" and said researchers were encouraged to be cautious and only include deaths definitively considered to be caused by drug-resistant bacterial infections.

Report: Health care infections are becoming a 'national crisis'

While many hospitals have implemented "antibiotic stewardship" programs, more needs to be done to ensure patient safety, some health experts said. According to Edward Septimus, a professor of internal medicine at the Texas A&M University Health Science Center, "These things we're talking about have to be done across a continuum of care" in health systems and in the community.

Authors' recommendations

To address antibiotic resistance, the report recommended:
  • A more prudent use of antibiotics;
  • Better inspection of drug-resistant bacteria;
  • Development of new drugs; and
  • New tests that quickly can identify antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Using these recommendations, hospitals could save about $20 billion annually in medical costs, CDC concluded (Tavernise, New York Times, 9/16; McKay, Wall Street Journal, 9/16).

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