Are we losing the battle against super-bugs?

September 19, 2013 —

In the antibiotic-armed battle against harmful bacteria, the bad news is that the bacteria may be winning.

This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report that antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a growing and extremely dangerous problem. It poses a “catastrophic threat,” world health leaders say, to people in every country in the world.

Medical illustration of non-typhoidal Salmonella

Medical illustration of non-typhoidal Salmonella

Here’s how the CDC explains this often-deadly dilemma: “When bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, they start learning how to outsmart the drugs. This process occurs in bacteria found in humans, animals, and the environment. Resistant bacteria can multiply and spread easily and quickly, causing severe infections. They can also share genetic information with other bacteria, making the other bacteria resistant as well. Each time bacteria learn to outsmart an antibiotic, treatment options are more limited, and these infections pose a greater risk to human health.”

Every year, more than two million people in the United States get infections that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a result, according to the new CDC report. In addition, almost 250,000 people who are hospitalized or require hospitalization get Clostridium difficile each year, an infection usually related to antibiotic use. C. difficile causes deadly diarrhea and kills at least 14,000 people each year.

The report is the first time the CDC has ranked antibiotic resistance into the categories urgent, serious and concerning.

CDC microbiologist Valerie Albrecht holds up two plates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

CDC microbiologist Valerie Albrecht holds up two plates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

“Antibiotic resistance is rising for many different pathogens that are threats to health,” stated Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., CDC director, on the centers’ website. “If we don’t act now, our medicine cabinet will be empty and we won’t have the antibiotics we need to save lives.”

You can find extensive information on this serious problem on the CDC website, including the four core actions recommended to combat it:

  • preventing infections to prevent the spread of resistance;
  • tracking antibiotic-resistant infections and their causes;
  • improving antibiotic use and stewardship; and
  • developing new drugs and diagnostic tests.

The CDC advises individuals to get updated and regular vaccinations and to take steps that prevent bacteria exposure, including washing one’s hands and cooking meat and poultry thoroughly. For health care providers, the CDC emphasizes the importance of vigilant infection controls and proper use of antibiotics.

It’s clear that everyone needs to take responsibility in the battle against these “super-bugs.”


Endlessly curious and easily entertained, Barb Dietrich Boose loves being a member of the friendly, fascinating DMU community and its creative communications team. The University's publications director and DMU Magazine editor, Barb is always on the hunt for story ideas, good books and new recipes to try out on her family, such as her surprisingly tasty pork-and-bean bars.