NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 2, 2006

The bugs are gaining ground.  In hospitals around the world, doctors have fewer effective weapons to use against germs, especially those that attack the sickest of the sick, and in some cases, they say they're simply out of ammunition.

Scientists who met last week at the Interscience Conference on Anti-microbial Agents and Chemotherapy, a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, spoke with alarm about a growing number of microbes that have become immune to antibiotics.

  • A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in tests of more than 8,500 strains of acinetobacter tested at more than 300 hospitals, those that were no longer treatable with any of the four classes of antibiotics (fluoroquinolones, aminoglycosides, beta lactams and carbapenems) increased from 4.5 percent in 1995 to 16.7 percent in 2004; those susceptible to only one kind of antibiotic rose from 14 percent to 25.6 percent.
  • Staphyloccus aureus is widely resistant to methicillin; new cases resistant to vancomycin, long considered the last line of defense, are being reported.
  • Many of the drug-resistant bugs are found in hospitals, where catheters and other devices can expose very sick patients to the bacteria.

Doctors said they are having to resort to older drugs, which had fallen out of use because they cause severe side effects, and to combinations of drugs in hope that multipronged attacks on the microbes will be effective.

What causes drug resistance is overuse of antibiotics and lack of knowledge on how best to use them, says Louis Rice, chief of medical services at the VA Medical Center in Cleveland.  "There are no good studies to tell us how to treat these organisms," he says. It may be that less is best.  "Any dose beyond what is exactly required will promote resistance," he says.

Source: Anita Manning, "Number of drug-resistant germs on the rise," USA Today, October 1, 2006.

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