3Qs: The effect of antibiotic resistant bacteria

October 2, 2013 by Angela Herring, Northeastern University
Assistant professor of pharmacy practice Betsy Hirsch is exploring combination therapies to treat antibiotic resistant bacteria, which pose a significant health threat to our nation's public. Credit: Photo by Brooks Canaday

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report titled Antibiotic resistance threats in the United States, 2013, that served as a first-ever snapshot of the effect antibiotic resistant microbes have on human health. The report cited estimates that 2 million Americans become infected with resistant bacteria each year, 23,000of whom die from their infections. We asked Betsy Hirsch, an assistant professor in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences' Department of Pharmacy Practice, whose research currently focuses on treating a particular class of resistant bugs through combination therapies, to explain the report's significance.

What are antibiotic-resistant bacteria and why are they of increasing concern?

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have evolved or acquired mechanisms that make them resistant to, generally speaking, multiple classes of . The overuse or inappropriate use of antibiotics in both humans' health and agriculture can lead to the emergence and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The CDC report describes that a disturbing number—up to 50 percent—of all prescribed antibiotics are unnecessary or inappropriately prescribed.

Antibiotic- are of increasing concern because the antibiotic pipeline is drying up. A significant amount of money and time go into the development of a new drug, and because antibiotics are often viewed as short-course therapies, this can mean low returns on investments. In addition, an unpredictable and often unattainable approval process for at the Food and Drug Administration has resulted in many companies abandoning research and development of new antibiotics. In fact, the FDA has only approved six new antibiotics in the past 10 years. As a result of this diminishing pipeline and the continuous evolution of bacteria, there may only be few, if any, effective antibiotics against infections caused by these resistant organisms.

What are the main findings of the CDC report and why is it getting so much attention?

This report is the first time the CDC has pooled all of its data on antibiotic resistance and concisely organized it all in one place. For the first time, it has prioritized bacteria into one of three "threat level" categories: urgent, serious, and concerning. For organisms within each of the threat levels, yearly estimates of infections and attributable deaths are given.

The document urges a call to action to combat this serious health threat. If steps are not immediately taken to halt the spread of antibiotic resistance, we are at risk of returning to the pre-antibiotic era. Without effective antibiotics, many modern medical advances, like organ transplants and cancer therapies, will no longer be possible since these patients are considerably more susceptible to .

Where does the health community go from here?

In the battle between men and microbes, we will never win, but there are some essential steps that can be taken to potentially limit the emergence of . First, raising awareness among the public that antibiotics can be harmful is critical; the CDC should be applauded for its efforts in releasing this report. Long-term solutions that may contribute to slowing the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant infections include infection control and prevention; increased monitoring and surveillance of bacterial resistance trends in the U.S.; improving antibiotic prescribing and use; and the development of new antibiotics.

In the short term, it will be imperative to identify antimicrobial combinations that are effective for antibiotic-resistant organisms, when few or no effective single-agent regimens exist. In particular, our lab is currently studying a specific type (Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemases [KPCs]) of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, which the CDC has placed in the highest threat level category. These organisms are resistant to most antibiotics on the market and nearly half of patients infected with this pathogen will die. We are studying the killing capacity of various combinations of antibiotics currently available on the market. Although KPC-producing bacteria may be resistant to these antibiotics when used alone, we are searching for synergistic combinations that effectively kill the when used together.

Explore further: CDC sounds alarm on antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Related Stories

CDC sounds alarm on antibiotic-resistant bacteria

September 16, 2013
(HealthDay)—More than 2 million people come down with infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year in the United States, leading to at least 23,000 deaths, according to a report released Monday by federal health ...

'Cycling' antibiotics might help combat resistance, study suggests

September 26, 2013
(HealthDay)—Doctors might be able to overcome antibiotic-resistant bacteria by swapping out the antibiotics used to treat a patient, providing a "one-two" punch that keeps the germs reeling, a new Danish study suggests.

Bacterial 'autopsy' could speed antibiotic discovery: study

September 20, 2013
(HealthDay)—Scientists say they've found a quicker way to analyze chemicals with bacteria-killing abilities in an advance they hope will speed the development of new antibiotics.

Antibiotic resistance among hospital-acquired infections is much greater than prior CDC estimates

August 1, 2013
The rise of antibiotic resistance among hospital-acquired infections is greater than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found in its 2008 analysis, according to an ahead-of-print article in the journal, ...

Antibiotic reduction campaigns do not necessarily reduce resistance

July 29, 2013
Antibiotic use—and misuse—is the main driver for selection of antibiotic resistant bacteria. This has led many countries to implement interventions designed to reduce overall antibiotic consumption. Now, using methicillin ...

When bacteria fight back

September 23, 2013
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a report about the growth of drug-resistant bacteria in this country, saying that each year more than 23,000 people die and 2 million are sickened by infections ...

Recommended for you

New long-acting approach for malaria therapy developed

January 22, 2018
A new study, published in Nature Communications, conducted by the University of Liverpool and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine highlights a new 'long acting' medicine for the prevention of malaria.

Virus shown to be likely cause of mystery polio-like illness

January 22, 2018
A major review by UNSW researchers has identified strong evidence that a virus called Enterovirus D68 is the cause of a mystery polio-like illness that has paralysed children in the US, Canada and Europe.

Creation of synthetic horsepox virus could lead to more effective smallpox vaccine

January 19, 2018
UAlberta researchers created a new synthetic virus that could lead to the development of a more effective vaccine against smallpox. The discovery demonstrates how techniques based on the use of synthetic DNA can be used to ...

Study ends debate over role of steroids in treating septic shock

January 19, 2018
The results from the largest ever study of septic shock could improve treatment for critically ill patients and save health systems worldwide hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

New approach could help curtail hospitalizations due to influenza infection

January 18, 2018
More than 700,000 Americans were hospitalized due to illnesses associated with the seasonal flu during the 2014-15 flu season, according to federal estimates. A radical new approach to vaccine development at UCLA may help ...

Flu may be spread just by breathing, new study shows; coughing and sneezing not required

January 18, 2018
It is easier to spread the influenza virus (flu) than previously thought, according to a new University of Maryland-led study released today. People commonly believe that they can catch the flu by exposure to droplets from ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.