Drug-resistant superbug infections have been called the developing nightmare that make conquered germs untreatable again.
So there is surprising news in a report released Wednesday: US deaths from superbugs appear to be falling.
About 36,000 Americans died of drug-resistant infections in 2017, an 18% drop from an estimated 44,000 in 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report estimated. The decline is mainly attributed to intense efforts in hospitals to control the spread of particularly dangerous infections.
"We are retreating into a battle we were losing," said Michael Kirsch, a pharmacist at AdventHealth Tampa, a Florida hospital that has reduced its rates of superbug infection. "I would not declare success at all."
In fact, although deaths are declining, nonfatal infections have grown nationally from 2.6 million in 2013 to 2.8 million in 2017. Some worrying new germs are emerging. And superbugs are appearing much more often outside hospitals, the report says.
For example, urinary tract infections have been easily treated in doctors' offices with common antibiotics for years. But it is increasingly common to see healthy young women with these infections forced into hospital after initial treatments do not work, said Bradley Frazee, an emergency room doctor in California.
"We have never really worried about this kind of antibiotic resistance in the past," said Frazee, who last year co-authored a newspaper article documenting over 1,000 drug-resistant urinary tract infections in a year at the Hospital. Highland in Oakland.
Antibiotics became widely available in the 1940s, and today dozens are used to kill or suppress the bacteria behind diseases ranging from the sore throat to the pest. Medicines are considered one of the greatest advances in medicine and have saved countless lives.
But over the decades, some antibiotics have stopped working. Experts say that overuse and misuse helped make them less effective.
The new report marks only the second time the CDC has attempted to measure the number of US illnesses and deaths attributed to drug-resistant germs.
The first, launched six years ago, estimated that over 23,000 US deaths and over 2 million infections were caused each year by superbugs. These numbers were based on 17 germs considered the greatest threat.
This count did not include deaths and diseases of an unpleasant insect called Clostridium difficile because the germ is still intimidated by the medicines used to treat it. But C. diff , as it is abbreviated, is considered part of the bigger problem because it can get out of control when antibiotics kill other bacteria. C. diff Fortunately, infections and deaths have also decreased.
Overall, public health authorities recognize that the problem of superbug is probably even greater. A 2018 article suggested that over 153,000 Americans die each year from – though not necessarily from – superbug infections.
The difference stems from where researchers get their data and what is included. "There is no universal agreement on what constitutes a drug-resistant infection," said lead author Dr. Jason Burnham of the University of Washington in St. Louis.
For Wednesday's report, the CDC looked for new data sources. For example, some previous estimates were based on reports from about 180 hospitals. This time, the CDC was able to extract from the electronic health records of about 700 US hospitals.
The CDC also used the new data to recalculate the 2013 estimate, establishing a new baseline.
Among the CDC's other findings:
◆ There have been fewer cases of various nasty hospital-associated germs, including drug-resistant tuberculosis and the bug known as MRSA.
◆ Infections Caused by So-called “Nightmare Bacteria” – Carbapenem Resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE – has remained stable, rather than increasing, to the relief of health authorities.
Officials credit hospitals for using antibiotics more prudently and for doing more to isolate patients with resistant infections. They also believe that government funding for laboratories helped researchers more quickly identify drug-resistant germs and take action against them.
Still, CDC officials said there is hardly cause for celebration.
"There are still many people dying," said Michael Craig, leader of the CDC's superbug threat assessment work. "We have a long way to go before we can feel we can get ahead of it."