Healthcare News & Insights

Antibiotic resistance: Latest threats to hospitals & how to respond

Antibiotic resistance continues to be a significant problem. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights just how bad it’s gotten – and lets hospitals know which antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” they should be watching for next. 

People contract over 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections each year in the U.S., according to CDC data in the report. These infections cause the deaths of more than 35,000 people.

When looking at one common superbug prevalent in hospitals, C. difficile, around 223,900 people required hospital care after becoming infected with the bacteria in 2017 – and at least 12,800 patients died from their infection.

Top antibiotic-resistant threats for hospitals

While deaths overall due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria are gradually declining, superbugs are still a significant threat to the population. They’re especially dangerous for patients in hospitals who are already weakened from battling other illnesses.

Per the CDC, some of the most urgent antibiotic-resistant threats right now are:

  • Carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter. This strain of bacteria causes various infections, including wound infections, urinary tract infections and bloodstream infections. It also causes pneumonia. Most people who contract it were recently treated in a hospital or other healthcare facility.
  • Drug-resistant Candida auris (C. auris). An emerging threat, this antibiotic-resistant yeast can quickly spread among hospital patients and cause severe infections.
  • C. difficile. The life-threatening illness, which causes issues with the digestive system, is most common in patients who have recently received antibiotics in hospitals.
  • Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE). Also referred to as “nightmare bacteria,” certain strains of CRE are resistant to almost every type of antibiotic. That makes them difficult to fight when patients contract them in hospitals. Clinicians must often choose treatment options that are either less effective or more harmful to patients.
  • Drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae (N. gonorrhoeae). This strain of the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea doesn’t respond to traditional treatment. While it’s not as deadly as other superbugs, it increases the risk of infertility and ectopic pregnancy, and it also leaves patients more vulnerable to being infected with HIV.

Other antibiotic-resistant bacteria that hospitals should be vigilant about include drug-resistant Campylobacter, extended-spectrum Beta-lactamase (ESBL) producing Enterobacteriaceae, vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE), multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa (P. aeruginosa), drug-resistant nontyphoidal Salmonella, drug-resistant Shigella and drug-resistant Tuberculosis.

Next steps

Hospitals must be ready to respond aggressively when a patient contracts an illness or infection caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. For some strains, extreme treatments may have to be considered to fight the bacteria and save the patient.

However, the best protection is prevention. Having a comprehensive antibiotic stewardship program that’s focused on responsible antibiotic use is essential to keeping more antibiotic-resistant threats from arising.

In addition, emphasizing proper cleaning techniques and reminding both staff and patients about general hygienic practices (such as effective hand hygiene) can keep germs from spreading like wildfire in hospitals.

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