January 22, 2018

Are We in the “Post Antibiotic” Era?

A report on PBS on the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is frightening. An interview with Arjun Srinivasan, the CDC’s expert on antimicrobial resistant said, “We’re here. We’re in the post-antibiotic era. There are patients for whom we have no therapy, and we are literally in a position of having a patient in a bed who has an infection, something that five years ago even we could have treated, but now we can’t.” Most chillingly, he says, “There are Gram-negative bacteria that have developed resistance to everything, for which we have no viable antibiotics left to treat them.”

Petri DishThis fight is personal to me because one of my cousins is currently hospitalized with an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection. In addition, the ongoing Foster Farms chicken Salmonella outbreak involves four strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which is causing a high hospitalization rate among those patients. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria could end bone marrow transplants, chemotherapy for cancer, and organ transplants.

Food Poisoning Bulletin has been telling you about the fight to reduce sub therapeutic antibiotic use in farm animals for years. Everyone from general practitioners in small towns to the head of the World Health Organization has been warning about this issue for years. The CDC conducted a study about the number of antibiotic-resistant infections using a 2011 survey. Estimates are that 2,000,000 people contract an antibiotic-resistant infection every year in the U.S., and at least 23,000 die from those infections.

Congress formed the Interagency Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance in 1999, but there is still no national surveillance plan in place. There are no dedicated staff on this so-called Task Force, and they have met less than once a year since it was formed. The CDC is setting up an electronic system to track the use of antibiotics and patterns of resistance across the country. But it is voluntary. As of this month, just 38 hospitals are participating.

The STAAR Act, which would kick the Antimicrobial Resistance Task Force into action, is pending in Congress. It has been introduced every year since 2006, but it has never passed Congress. That Act would establish a “sentinel surveillance system through CDC encompassing at least 10 geographically-distributed sites to track and confirm in near real time the emergency of resistant pathogens.” It would also establish a national isolate collection capacity to serve as a repository for pathogen samples. The Act would also fund the federal response to antimicrobial resistance. Every citizen should call his or her Representative and Senator and tell them to support the STAAR Act. For the good of the nation.

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