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.

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We are at a crossroads.  Lack of investment in our urgent fight against antibiotic-resistant infections means an exponentially worse problem in the future.

I thank Admiral Carey for calling attention to this threat and the important leadership that legislators including Reps. Gene GreenRaymond (Gene) Eugene GreenTexas New Members 2019 Two Democrats become first Texas Latinas to serve in Congress Latina Leaders to Watch 2018 MORE (D-Texas), Phil GingreyJohn (Phil) Phillip Gingrey2017's top health care stories, from ObamaCare to opioids Beating the drum on healthcare Former GOP chairman joins K Street MORE (R-Calif.), Jim MathesonJames (Jim) David MathesonTrump EPA eases standards for coal ash disposal Utah redistricting reform measure likely to qualify for ballot Trump's budget targets affordable, reliable power MORE (D-Utah), Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) and Danny Davis (D-Ill.) and Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownHouse panel to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency project Democrats talk up tax credits to counter Trump law Facebook's new cryptocurrency raises red flags for critics MORE (D-Ohio), Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist, former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators MORE (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.