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Millions of Americans take antimicrobial drugs each year to fight illness, trusting they will work. However, the bacteria, viruses and other pathogens are fighting back. Within the past couple of years alone, new drug-resistant patterns have emerged and resistance has increased -- a trend that demands urgent action to preserve the last lines of defense against many of these germs. Today, CDC joins the World Health Organization and other health partners in recognizing World Health Day, which this year spotlights antimicrobial resistance.
"People assume that antibiotics will always be there to fight the worst infections, but antimicrobial resistance is robbing us of that certainty and new drug-resistant pathogens are emerging," says CDC director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH. "It's not enough to hope that we'll have effective drugs to combat these infections. We must all act now to safeguard this important resource."
Antimicrobial resistance - when germs change in a way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of drugs to treat them - is a growing global problem. Plasmodium falciparum, the most dangerous of the malaria parasites, has developed resistance to nearly all of the currently available antimalarial drugs in parts of Southeast Asia. Sporadic cases of pandemic H1N1 flu have shown resistance to oseltamivir, one of only two antivirals that work against it. In the United States, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA, remains a problem in many health care settings. Drug-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae, previously seen in a limited number of hospitals, has now been reported in at least 36 states. Gonorrhea is now showing potential for resistance to cephalosporins, the only recommended antibiotic left to treat this common sexually transmitted infection.
Antibiotic resistance increases the economic burden on the entire healthcare system. Resistant infections are often more severe, leading to longer hospital stays and increased costs for treatment. According to the latest available data, antibiotic resistance in the United States costs an estimated $20 billion a year in excess healthcare costs, $35 million in other societal costs and more than 8 million additional days that people spend in the hospital.
As part of this effort, CDC - in collaboration with the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and other partners - recently released a public health action plan laying out 11 key goals to combat antimicrobial resistance in the areas of surveillance, prevention and control, research and product development. The plan is designed to facilitate communication and coordination as well to provide guidance on the most pressing resistance issues and how to address them.
"This plan is the result of years of work between CDC, FDA, NIH and other health partners and provides a framework for the way forward," says Jean Patel, PhD, deputy director of CDC's Office of Antimicrobial Resistance. "Patients, healthcare professionals, hospitals and policy makers must all work together to employ effective strategies to improve the appropriate use of the drugs that fight these infections - ultimately saving lives."
Appropriate use of existing antibiotics can limit the spread of antibiotic resistance, preserving antibiotics for the future. CDC advocates for the appropriate use of antibiotics through its Get Smart programs focused on community and health care settings. CDC is engaged in working to address antimicrobial resistance across a growing number of disease-causing organisms and settings.
The public can also play a role in reducing the threat of antimicrobial resistance by not pressuring their healthcare providers for antibiotics, not sharing or saving antibiotics, and taking antibiotics exactly as prescribed, including taking the entire amount prescribed.
Health care providers can prevent antimicrobial resistance by ensuring prompt diagnosis and treatment of infections, prescribing antibiotics appropriately, and following infection prevention techniques to prevent the spread of drug-resistant infections in healthcare facilities.
To learn more about antimicrobial resistance by disease and setting, visit www.cdc.gov/media. For more information on CDC's antimicrobial resistance efforts, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/index.html.
The action plan is posted on the Federal Register and comments on the plan will be accepted through April 15, 2011. To view the action plan, visit:http://wwwn.cdc.gov/publiccomments/comments/a-public-health-action-plan-to-combat-antimicrobial-resistance-draft.aspx.