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Americans Must Stop Overusing Antibiotics

This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will kick off its annual campaign aimed at reducing the overuse of antibiotics, drugs that one by one are becoming useless in the war against antibiotic-resistant microbes.

The CDC campaign – “Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work” – urges consumers to use these drugs sparingly and many Americans have taken that message to heart. Recent data from the CDC show that antibiotic use is leveling off in the United States. In 1994, 300 out of every 1,000 pediatric office visits resulted in an antibiotic prescription. By 2007, that number had fallen to 229, a 24 percent decrease. However, interactive maps by Extending the Cure, a research project of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, show regional disparities in the use of antibiotics, including very high consumption in some Southeastern states.

These findings can and should be used by public health officials to understand why certain regions show high patterns of consumption and then put in place solutions, including public education campaigns tailored to stop the overuse of these powerful drugs.

The new research reveals a high rate of antibiotic use in some Southeastern states and much lower rates in the Pacific Northwest, compared to the rest of the country. West Virginia and Kentucky had striking rates of antibiotic use: People living in those states took twice as many antibiotics as people living in states like Oregon and Alaska.

High rates, like those seen in the southeastern United States, might reflect an environment in which consumers are anxious to get an antibiotic prescription for a case of the flu – and doctors are only too willing to comply. But antibiotics do nothing to combat viral illnesses such as common colds or influenza.

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Visualizing the Threat Posed by Antibiotic Resistance

For the first time, researchers and policymakers can visually track the rise in “superbug” infections over time and identify regions of the country with rapidly spreading rates of resistance.

Researchers at Extending the Cure, a nonprofit project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio, have developed ResistanceMap—an online tool that tracks changes in resistance levels. These maps show us how the problem of antibiotic resistance has gotten worse–with some regions of the country experiencing a significant and worrying increase in drug- resistant microbes.

Infections like those caused by MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) kill an estimated 100,000 people in the United States each year. Progress toward solving this emerging public health crisis has been slow, an important reason why the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has funded this research through its Pioneer Portfolio. We share a common view that the best way to prevent an epidemic from occurring may lie in dramatically reframing how we approach the problem.

This is exactly what Extending the Cure has done with ResistanceMap, a web tool that presents scientific data in a user-friendly way, allowing policymakers and researchers to quickly identify regions in urgent need of better infection control, enhanced surveillance, more vigilant antibiotic stewardship, and comprehensive methods to curtail the spread of resistant microbes.Continue reading…

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