Antibiotic medications have made a major contribution to human health. Many diseases that once killed people can now be treated effectively with antibiotics, but some bacteria have become resistant to commonly used antibiotics. Antibiotic resistant bacteria are bacteria that are not controlled or killed by antibiotics; they are able to survive and even multiply in the presence of an antibiotic.
Antibiotic resistance refers specifically to the resistance to antibiotics that occurs in common bacteria that cause infections. Antimicrobial resistance is a broader term, encompassing resistance to drugs to treat infections caused by other microbes as well, such as parasites (e.g. malaria), viruses (e.g. HIV) and fungi. Most infection-causing bacteria can become resistant to at least some antibiotics. Bacteria that are resistant to many antibiotics are known as multi-resistant organisms.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declares that antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health today. When infections can no longer be treated by first-line antibiotics, more expensive medicines must be used. A longer duration of illness and treatment, often in hospitals, increases health care costs as well as the economic burdens. Scientists have found that antibiotic resistant bacteria can spread from person to person in the community or from patient to patient in hospital.
According to WHO, in the European Union alone, drug-resistant bacteria are estimated to cause 25,000 deaths and cost more than US $1.5 billion every year in healthcare expenses and productivity losses. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as found an ever-increasing number of cases related to drug-resistant bacteria. Here are some recent facts published by the CDC:
154 million prescriptions for antibiotics are written in U.S. doctor’s offices and emergency departments each year.
2 million illnesses are related to drug-resistant bacteria every year.
23,000 deaths annually are linked to drug-resistant bacteria.
70% of prescriptions are considered necessary although improvements in selection, dose and duration are still needed.
44% of outpatient antibiotic prescriptions are written to treat patients with acute respiratory conditions (e.g. sinus infections, middle ear infections, pharyngitis, viral upper respiratory infections, bronchitis, bronchiolitis, asthma, allergies, influenza, and pneumonia). The CDC estimates that 50% of these outpatient prescriptions are unnecessary.
30% of antibiotics prescribed are unnecessary. The CDC estimates that one in three prescriptions (or 47 million annually) are inappropriate.
In the United States, the government has put forth a National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria which aims to reduce inappropriate outpatient antibiotic use by 50% by 2020. They note that this would require the elimination of 15% of all antibiotic prescriptions.
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