A nightmare health scenario we can stop
November 20th, 2013
08:52 AM ET

A nightmare health scenario we can stop

By Tom Frieden, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Dr. Tom Frieden is the director for the Center for Disease Control. The views expressed are his own.

Today’s interconnected world means we’re all linked by the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat – and the antibiotics we use.

Global travel speeds the rate at which infectious disease threats can be delivered to our doorstep. We’ve seen antibiotic resistance travel the globe. Take Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae or CRE. This really is a nightmare bacteria, resistant to most, and in some cases all, antibiotics. These microbes are especially deadly, and they can pass their resistance to other microbes through “jumping genes” or plasmids. One type of CRE was first seen in one U.S. state. Now it’s spread to 44. It’s also a recognized problem in other countries.

Right now, CRE are found primarily in hospitals. But if these microbes become more common in the community, then urinary tract infections, wounds and other common infections will be extremely difficult or even impossible to treat. It’s a terrible scenario – one that puts all of us at risk.

To help draw attention to CRE and other top antibiotic-resistance threats, the Center for Disease Control recently published its first report on the current antibiotic resistance threat to the U.S. The report estimates that each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria resistant to antibiotics, and at least 23,000 people die as a result.

It’s a big problem, and one that’s getting worse.  But we published this report because it’s not too late – there’s a lot we can do to slow down, and even reverse, antibiotic resistance.

Clinicians, healthcare facility leaders, public health professionals, leaders in agriculture, policymakers, and patients all have a role to play in reversing the current resistance trends. Through concerted commitment to immunization, infection control, protecting the food supply, antibiotic stewardship, and reducing person-to-person transmission we can keep new resistance from developing and prevent the resistance that already exists from spreading.

More from CNN: Doctors still overprescribing antibiotics

Indeed, there are four core actions that between us we can and should be taking:

Prevent: Drug-resistant infections can be prevented by immunization, infection control in healthcare settings, safe food preparation and handling and hand washing.

Track: CDC collects and analyzes data on antibiotic-resistant infections to understand their causes and to discover which people more likely to be infected and to help find and stop outbreaks.

Improve use: Every doctor must commit to use antibiotics only when needed, and to use antibiotics for only as long as they are needed. Patients need to understand that “more” drugs does not equal “better” drugs. The right treatment is the best treatment – and that isn’t antibiotics for every infection or every illness.

Develop new drugs and diagnostic tests: It’s important that we restart the pipeline and provide incentives to companies to do this research. Still, it might be 10 years before the next antibiotic is available, and unless we improve systems to prevent resistance, we will lose these new drugs as well.

The president’s budget has a request for an increase of $40 million so we can better use advanced molecular techniques to find resistant and other deadly microbes and stop them faster. But whatever resources are entrusted to us, we’re going to use them as effectively as we can to protect Americans, because that’s what we’re here to do.

In the meantime, we’re also working with other countries to help them build their systems to find, stop and prevent health threats, because there are too many blind spots around the world.  We help them increase laboratory and prevention capacity so threats are detected accurately and stopped sooner.

We work with our international partners such as the World Health Organization and ministries of health to improve tracking and prevention of antibiotic resistance and better protection of the antibiotics we have today.

That protects them – and it protects Americans.

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Topics: Health

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