The introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s revolutionized medical treatment and saved millions of lives. Many of our advances in medical treatment depend on the appropriate use of antibiotics, like treating patients who have cancer or have received an organ transplant. But today, largely as a result of widespread and often unnecessary use of antibiotics, these advances are being threatened by antibiotic resistance – when bacteria grow and survive despite encountering antibiotics aimed at killing them. And resistance isn’t happening with just serious infections in hospitals. Everyday infections like sinus infections are increasingly more difficult to treat due to antibiotic resistance.
The statistics are staggering and make antibiotic resistance one of the most significant public health challenges we face as a nation. Every year in the United States more than two million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection, and at least 23,000 people die from these infections. Most concerning is that we now find infections in the United States that are resistant to our antibiotics of last resort. The good news is that although bacteria will find new ways to resist antibiotics, actions can be taken to address this public health challenge.
Taking serious action
The federal government is taking action to combat the threat of antibiotic resistance. The National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria provides a coordinated and comprehensive roadmap for reducing antibiotic resistance. It does this by tracking resistance and identifying emerging threats; preventing infections and the spread of resistance; improving antibiotic prescribing and use; developing new vaccines, diagnostic tests, and medications to prevent, diagnose, and treat infections; and strengthening international collaboration to stop the spread of resistance.
Significant progress has been made since the National Action Plan was launched in 2015. For example, 64 percent of hospitals in the United States in 2016 had antibiotic stewardship programs — evidence-based programs that improve the use of antibiotics — up from 39 percent in 2014. The federal government has provided millions of dollars in funding to support the development of more than 50 new medications to treat antibiotic resistant diseases. And infection prevention strategies in hospitals in the United States have reduced methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) blood-stream infections by 5 percent between 2014 and 2016.
Each of us can do our part to fight against antibiotic resistance. This can be as simple as washing your hands to prevent the spread of germs, talking to your doctor about whether an antibiotic is the right treatment for you and taking your antibiotics as directed. Working together, we can continue to make real progress in our efforts to stop antibiotic resistance and to ensure that antibiotics will be available for future generations.