The United States is launching a nationwide effort to dramatically slash infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria by 2020 to prevent deaths and curb overuse of antibiotics.
Officials in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are taking a cue from the success of a CDC-funded Chicago hospital experiment that has managed to halve infections caused by an especially deadly type of superbug.
The Chicago study focused on four long-term acute care hospitals which tend to have above-average rates of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), called a “nightmare bacteria” because even the strongest antibiotics fail to subdue it.
“When it comes to antimicrobial resistance, for many of the threats that we face, we know what to do,” Reuters reported Monday, citing CDC director Tom Frieden. “We just need to get it done.”
The program involved testing all patients for CRE infections at the time of admission and again two weeks later. Patients who developed CRE were isolated in a private room or in a ward with other CRE-infected patients.
Healthcare workers wore protective gowns while tending to them, using some of the procedures used when caring for patients with Ebola.
All infected patients were bathed in chlorhexidine gluconate, an antiseptic commonly used in hospitals.
At the end of three years, cases of CRE infections fell by half, according to Dr. Michael Lin, an infectious disease expert at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Lin said the exact protocol might not be suitable for the average US hospital but shows how a focused strategy can help the CDC reach its goals.
The World Health Organization has declared antibiotic resistance a global emergency.
In the United States, it causes two million serious infections and 23,000 deaths each year, according to CDC estimates.
Many of these infections occur in hospitals. CDC estimates that at any given time, one in 20 hospital patients has an infection resulting from medical treatment.
The agency plans to work with hospitals and health departments across the country to develop surveillance programs to monitor and reduce infections and to promote “antibiotic stewardship” programs to stem over-prescription of antibiotics.
While the CDC has no regulatory authority, the government’s Medicare and Medicaid health insurance programs require all participating hospitals to develop a stewardship strategy within three years. Failure to do so would disqualify them from the health plans.
In January, President Barack Obama’s administration proposed doubling the government’s spending on tackling antibiotic resistance to US$1.2 billion.
Obama said on Friday that the new superbug plan “spells out exactly where the money would go”.
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