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COLUMN: Continue funding research to combat antibiotic resistant bacteria



This Halloween, let’s talk about something truly scary: the continued rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. 

The Center for Disease Control reports that 23,000 deaths are caused by antibiotic-resistant infections each year in the United States, leading many scientists to fear we have now entered a post-antibiotic era.  

Congress should continue to increase funding for health research organizations such as the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to combat what some are describing as a “national security threat equivalent to terrorism.” 

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria made the news recently when a multistate outbreak associated with Petland puppies was found to be caused by an antibiotic-resistant strain of Campylobacter. The bacteria caused an infection which could reach humans through its microscopic presence in dog feces. Fortunately, this strain was only resistant to the first-line antibiotic and could still be treated with second-line therapies. 

But this may not always be a possibility. 

Researchers from the American Society for Microbiology recently found that the mcr-1 gene, which provides resistance to colistin, the current last line of defense against multidrug-resistant infections, has spread around the world after being first identified 18 months ago.

Scientists and patients alike are running out of time. 

If unaddressed, the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria will create an especially bleak future, with one comprehensive review predicting that “drug-resistant infections will kill more people worldwide by 2050 than cancer and diabetes combined.” 

These "superbugs" did not emerge on their own, however. They were produced as a byproduct of societal actions, particularly the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in health care fields and the dairy and meat industries

The CDC estimates that in the United States, nearly 1 in 3 antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary, often in response to patients who ask for antibiotic prescriptions even when they have a viral illness like a cold or flu that would be unaffected by such a treatment. 

Improper disposal of antibiotics, patient non-adherence to antibiotic regimens and slow drug development pose further challenges to those combatting resistant strains. 

Prophylactic antibiotics are required for a wide variety of common procedures and surgeries, including caesarean sections, joint replacements and wisdom-teeth removal. 

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria would mean that these simple procedures may put people at significant risk of a potentially severe or fatal infection. 

Immunosuppressed people, such as those undergoing chemotherapy or afflicted with HIV/AIDS, will also be at great risk of developing these infections, and hospital-acquired infections are already estimated to cost the U.S. health care system more than $8 billion each year. 

Researchers are making progress towards developing new methods of combatting these multidrug resistant strains, but this progress is dependent on continued governmental support. 

President Donald Trump’s original budget proposal for the current fiscal year included cutting funding for health institutes by 22 percent. However, Congress pushed back, approving a $1.1 billion increase for these institutes instead. 

The Congressional message is clear: biomedical research provides a level of global and national security that no military or border wall could hope to provide. 

Peer-reviewed science, whether it concerns gun violence, climate change or health care, has never been fake news. 

jhoffer@indiana.edu
@jhoffer17

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