An op-ed in The Hill last Tuesday called on our country to arm our healthcare system with new weapons to combat the unseen enemy of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. The tragic story of Marine Lance Corporal Johnathan Gadsden losing his battle with an antibiotic-resistant infection emphasizes the threat we all face: many infections once easily cured are now nearly untreatable.
Every year, more than two million Americans get infections that are resistant to antibiotics - and at least 23,000 die as a result. If we lose our arsenal of effective antibiotics to resistance, we also undermine our ability to treat cancer, provide organ transplants, and save victims of burns and trauma, including our soldiers harmed in battle.
I thank Admiral Carey for calling attention to this threat and the important leadership that legislators including Reps. Gene Green (D-Texas), Phil Gingrey (R-Calif.), Jim Matheson (D-Utah), Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) and Danny Davis (D-Ill.) and Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Bennet (D-Colo.) are providing to tackle it.
Additionally, I am hopeful Congress will support CDC’s request for $30 million for CDC’s Detect and Protect Initiative and $14 million for the National Healthcare Safety Network to ramp up this fight. We think we can make rapid, substantial inroads reversing the rise of some resistant organisms. To make progress, we also need every hospital in the country to have an antibiotic stewardship program.
With this funding, CDC can fully implement antibiotic use and resistance reporting from U.S. hospitals. This will allow health care facilities to access and share antibiotic resistance and prescribing data, which will help doctors, pharmacists, and hospitals better treat and protect patients. Enhanced information from hospitals and a new regional lab network will make it easier to quickly detect outbreaks that might previously have gone unnoticed.
Hospitals, long-term acute care facilities, and nursing homes will be able join groups of health care facilities in a community working together to implement best practices for inpatient antibiotic prescribing and preventing infections. These efforts will further protect patients from drug-resistant infections in various medical facilities in a community.
New antibiotics and therapies will be needed to keep up with resistant bacteria, as will new tests to track the development of resistance. Proposed funding for CDC would also support a Resistance Bacteria Bank to make drug-resistant samples available to manufacturers and biotech firms as they develop new diagnostic tests and evaluate new antibiotics. We would be able to detect a resistant infection in hours instead of days, and provide effective treatment tailored to a patient’s specific infection.
These strategies and the funds needed to implement them are a down-payment to improve our country’s ability to start tackling our biggest drug-resistant threats. As the public health leader Hermann Biggs wrote 100 years ago: “Public health is purchasable. Within natural limitations, a community can determine its own death rate.”
With this and larger investments, we can open a new chapter in the fight against resistance and keep life-saving antibiotics effective and available for our families and neighbors, including the soldiers who fight for our country.
Frieden is director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.