Jacques Johndreau did not look like his usual self when I saw him in the office a few weeks ago. He looked part retired bank manager and part Disney cartoon chipmunk.
He spoke with hardly any facial movements:
“Holy Boys, my wife said to me this morning, you look like you’ve got the mumps again!”
I was aware that Jacques had an atrophic testicle from catching the mumps as a teenager. This time, it was not likely the mumps, but a bacterial parotitis. He was afebrile, and could open his mouth when asked to. I could not palpate a stone in Stensen’s duct and he didn’t experience any worsening of pain when eating acidic foods, so I wasn’t so sure he had a stone.
This was an early, mild case of parotitis and I thought he had a good chance of beating the infection with oral antibiotics. The majority of these infections are caused by staphylococci, but sometimes gram-negative bacteria are the culprit. Whatever I chose, I needed to consider that Jacques takes a blood thinner, warfarin, which interacts with many antibiotics, particularly ones with gram negative coverage.
I e-prescribed a high dose of Ceftin, or cefuroxime, a second generation cephalosporin with good coverage for both staph and gram-negatives and no effect on warfarin.
In July, CDC will roll out a new way every hospital in the country can track and control drug resistant bacteria.CDC already operates the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN), with more than 12,000 health care facilities participating. Now we are implementing a breakthrough program that will take control of drug resistance to the next level – the Antibiotic Use and Resistance (AUR) reporting module. The module is fully automated, capturing antibiotic prescriptions and drug susceptibility test results electronically.
With this module, we’ll be able to create the first antibiotic prescribing index. This index will help benchmark antibiotic use across health care facilities for the first time, allowing facilities to compare their data with similar facilities. It will help facilities and local and state health departments as well as CDC to identify hot spots within a city or a region.
We’ll be able to answer the questions: Which facilities are prescribing more antibiotics? How many types of resistant bacteria and fungi are they seeing? Do prescribing practices predict the number of resistant infections and outbreaks a facility will face? Ultimately with this information, we’ll be able to both improve prescribing practices and identify and stop outbreaks in a way we have never done before.
This will help deploy supportive and evidence-based interventions at each facility as well as at regional levels to help stop spread among various facilities.
The need for a comprehensive system to collect local, regional, and national data on antibiotic resistance is more critical than ever. The system now exists, and we need quick and widespread uptake.
Rapid and full implementation of this system is supported through the proposed increase of $14 million contained in CDC’s 2015 budget request to Congress.
With the requested funding increase in future years, CDC would look to develop web-based tools and provider apps so physicians will gain access to facility- and community-specific data via NHSN on the most effective empiric antibiotic for the patient in front of them. For example, a physician in a burn unit treating a patient with a possible staph infection will know what antibiotics that particular microbe is likely susceptible TO and which ones are likely to be most effective.
Instead of broad-spectrum antibiotics being the default choice, as is often the case now, doctors will see recommendations for targeted narrow-spectrum antibiotics that are more likely to be effective and less likely to lead to potentially deadly infections such as C. difficile.
Infectious disease is the most hyperbolic of all medical fields, at least when the media gets ahold of such.
Right now we are to fear a new avian influenza virus. Previously there was another avian influenza strain whose outbreak threatened the world and of course SARS and, more distantly, the ebola virus and the threat of bioterrorism. And on the periphery, as these acute threats come and go, is the persistent threat of super bugs; bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics. Sometimes all antibiotics.
I remember my pharmacology professor in medical school claiming that within our practice lives we would reach the useful end of antibiotics. A claim, literally, that physicians would no longer have any use for antibiotics by the time I reached the end of my career.
Scary stuff but evidence that such outrageousness sells pharmacology in a classroom as much as it does magazines on a news stand. Time magazine a post called “The End of Antibiotics?” referencing a Guardian article along the same lines. This followed a similar 2009 scare article in Time.
The latest study arguing that organics are not more nutritious than conventionally grown crops once again makes big-time news.
The last time I wrote about a study like this, I posted the British newspaper headlines.
Never mind the media hype. Here’s what the authors conclude:
The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Isn’t reducing exposure to pesticides and antibiotic use precisely what organic production is supposed to do?
The paper from the New England Journal of Medicine that reports azithromycin might cause cardiovascular death is not new to electrophysiologists tasked with deciding antibiotic choices in patients with Long QT syndrome or in those who take other antiarrhythmic drugs. Heck, even the useful Arizona CERT QTDrugs.org website could have told us that.
What was far scarier to me, though, was how the authors of this week’s paper reached their estimates of the magnitude of azithromycin’s cardiovascular risk.
Welcome to the underworld of Big Data Medicine.
Careful review of the Methods section of this paper reveals that “persons enrolled in the Tennessee Medicaid program” were the subjects, and that the data collected were “Computerized Medicaid data, which were linked to death certificates and to a state-wide hospital discharge database” and “Medicaid pharmacy files.” Anyone with azithromycin prescribed from 1992-2006 who had “not had a diagnosis of drug abuse or resided in a nursing home in the preceding year and had not been hospitalized in the prior 30 days.” Also, they had to be “Medicaid enrollees for at least 365 days and have regular use of medical care.”
Hey, no selection bias introduced with those criteria, right? But the authors didn’t stop there.
It was during my residency that the first indication of heart toxicity of antibiotics affected me personally. The threat was related to the use of the first of the non-drowsy antihistamines – Seldane – in combination with macrolide antibiotics, such as Erythromycin causing a potentially fatal heart arrhythmia. I remember the expressions fear from other residents, as we had used this combination of medications often. Were we killing people when we treated their bronchitis? We had no idea, but we were consoled by the fact that the people who had gotten our arrhythmia-provoking combo were largely anonymous to us (ER patients).
Fast forward to 2012 and the study (published in the holy writings of the New England Journal of Medicine) that Zithromax is associated with more dead people than no Zithromax. Here’s the headline-provoking conclusion:
During 5 days of therapy, patients taking azithromycin, as compared with those who took no antibiotics, had an increased risk of cardiovascular death (hazard ratio, 2.88; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.79 to 4.63; P<0.001) and death from any cause (hazard ratio, 1.85; 95% CI, 1.25 to 2.75; P=0.002). Patients who took amoxicillin had no increase in the risk of death during this period. Relative to amoxicillin, azithromycin was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular death (hazard ratio, 2.49; 95% CI, 1.38 to 4.50; P=0.002) and death from any cause (hazard ratio, 2.02; 95% CI, 1.24 to 3.30; P=0.005), with an estimated 47 additional cardiovascular deaths per 1 million courses; patients in the highest decile of risk for cardiovascular disease had an estimated 245 additional cardiovascular deaths per 1 million courses. (Emphasis Mine).
Reviewing “The Myth of The Paperless Office” for the New Yorker in 2002, Malcolm Gladwell argued that if the computer had come first, and paper didn’t exist, someone would have had to invent it. Paper, it turns out, is a lot more useful than we typically appreciate.
It occurred to me that perhaps the same might be said of another product we seem to take for granted in the digital age – medicines. (Disclosure: I work at a company that makes them.)
Medicines – you know, those little white pills that everyone loves to critique – are in many cases remarkably effective solutions to very difficult problems; it’s actually kind of amazing how useful some of these products can be. What an incredibly powerful idea – addressing a difficult and complex health problem with a simple pill you can pop before breakfast.
I read a tweet recently asserting that physicians may soon prescribe health apps as an alternative to medications; my initial reaction: good luck with that one. It’s certainly easy enough to envision how magical thinking about the power of health apps will soon be replaced by disappointment as app developers realize something drug makers have known for years: it’s hard to improve health, and it can be very difficult to get patients to stick with a treatment long enough to make a difference.