What Happens When Infections Fight Back
Prevention & Treatment Each year, at least 2 million people are sickened by antibiotic-resistant infections or superbugs, and more than 23,000 people die.
Sporting his peewee football uniform and smiling ear-to-ear, 12-year-old Carlos Don was the picture of health. But days before his thirteenth birthday, Carlos died from pneumonia. His illness was caused by an antibiotic-resistant infection that can be found wherever people gather, from day care centers to locker rooms to public transportation.
It could happen to any of us. Every day we’re exposed to millions of bacteria without problems. But if we do develop a serious infection, we now have fewer drugs to treat it. Carlos died from a bad bug called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), one of many antibiotic-resistant infections.
One analysis projects that in 35 years, these antibiotic-resistant infections will kill more people annually than cancer. We’re making things worse by not always using antibiotics wisely. And as the number of effective antibiotics dwindles, we aren’t developing enough replacements.
Without action, we may return to the days when a simple scratch often was deadly. That was before we had these miracle antibiotics to cure common infections, as well as make it safe to have surgery, effective cancer treatment and successful organ transplants. But it’s not too late to take action.
Prescription for the public
First, we need to safeguard the antibiotics we have. Infectious diseases physicians are leading the way in antibiotic stewardship to ensure that the right drug is prescribed at the right time for the right diagnosis. The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) supports policies requiring hospitals and long-term care facilities to establish stewardship programs that foster a culture supporting appropriate antibiotic use, and we’re stepping up to lead these programs.
"Every day we’re exposed to millions of bacteria without problems. But if we do develop a serious infection, we now have fewer drugs to treat it."
Second, we need to encourage the development of new antibiotics, which has plummeted as pharmaceutical companies shift resources into more profitable medications to treat chronic conditions such as high cholesterol or diabetes. We support federal initiatives that promote the research and development of new antibiotics, such as the 21st Century Cures Act and the Promise for Antibiotics and Therapeutics for Health (PATH) Act.
These and other initiatives are aimed at increasing funding and easing barriers to antibiotic development while continuing to ensure the drugs are safe. We support the development of better tests for infections to improve treatment, prevention and surveillance, which help reduce the spread of these bacteria.
But we need your help. Someday, you or someone you love may develop a serious infection and need an effective antibiotic. That’s why it’s important to understand the risks of inappropriate antibiotic use. Don’t insist your doctor prescribe antibiotics when they’re not needed, such as for viral infections, including most sore throats and the flu. You also can help by asking your congressional representatives to support key initiatives. Read on to find out more about this problem and how, together, we can avert disaster and prevent other families from suffering the same tragedy as Carlos’ parents.