CDC Charts Antibiotic Resistance Threat

The agency estimates that at least 23,000 people in the U.S. die each year as a result of antibiotic-resistant infections. 

Sep 16, 2013
Tracy Vence

Colorized scanning electron micrograph depicting clumps of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus CDCOf the 2 million-plus people that are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the United States each year, at least 23,000 die as a result. That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which today (September 16) released the first federal estimate of antibiotic-resistant infections in a comprehensive report on the subject.

“They have come up with hard numbers where it has been only guesswork,” Tufts University microbiologist Stuart Levy told The New York Times. “This sets a baseline we can all believe in.”

In its report, the CDC noted that about half of human antibiotic use is unnecessary, and such overuse could be leading to heightened resistance among circulating bacterial strains. The agency also noted that “antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate,” and might also contribute to increased drug resistance.

Elsewhere in the report, CDC listed antibiotic-resistant pathogens according to urgency—the extent to which researchers ought to focus their efforts and expand public attention to the existence of these bugs. Topping the list was carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), members of which are highly resistant to most antibiotics. The CDC also marked Clostridium difficile and drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae as “urgent” threats, deemed 12 other microorganisms—including drug-resistant tuberculosis and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)—“serious” threats, and another three others “concerning.”

During a conference call with reporters, CDC Director Tom Frieden highlighted the importance of molecular detection and surveillance. “We think we will be able, over the coming years . . . to develop ways to detect resistant organisms much more quickly,” he said . . . “and to figure out how they are spreading, so we can prevent more effectively.” Better diagnostic tests, he added, “will be extremely important.”