Monday, October 6, 2014

Superbugs spread across U.S.

 Superbugs spread across U.S.

Washington Examiner | October 6, 2014

As Americans worry about Ebola, the swiftly spreading virus that has traveled from West Africa to Texas, a more silent killer poses a greater danger. It sounds pedestrian, easy to dismiss.

That’s what makes it so devastating.

The U.S. health system is now under assault by antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

Drug-resistant bacteria killed 23,000 people in America last year and caused 2 million illnesses. It is getting worse, health experts say.

Doctors and others in American medicine have unparalleled knowledge about the spread of illness, but they can do little to fend off superbugs unless there is a big decline in the use of antibiotics and a rapid increase in the development of new drugs to treat seemingly routine ailments.

Put another way, Americans could start to die from some of the same illnesses that cut down people living in the Dark Ages.

“The growth of anti-microbial resistance threatens to end the antibiotic era, returning us to a time when even simple infections were often fatal,” CDC Director Tom Frieden told the Washington Examiner.

The Great Influenza of 1918 killed between 50 million and 100 million people worldwide, the Black Death of 1347 to 1351 wiped out half of Europe’s population, and cholera caused seven pandemics in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The World Health Organization put the health risks bluntly in a report earlier this year on the threat of antibiotic resistance.

“A post-antibiotic era — in which common infections and minor injuries can kill — far from being an apocalyptic fantasy, is instead a very real possibility for the 21st century,” the organization warned.

Long prescribed by doctors as a fix for a variety of maladies, antibiotics have been relied on too heavily, both through personal use and in the nation’s food supply, causing bacteria to evolve to the point of resisting them.

About half of all antibiotic prescriptions, the CDC estimates, aren’t even needed to treat the ailments in question. And the drugs do nothing to fight off the common cold or the flu.

Doctors would prefer that Americans focus on using antibiotics properly and keeping their vaccinations up to date, and worry less about Ebola.

Respiratory viruses such as the flu have proved far deadlier. Because such viruses spread through the air or by simple human contact, and do so before symptoms appear, they have higher transmission rates that create conditions for a full-blown pandemic.