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Deadly superbugs linked to over-prescription of antibiotics

The invention and development of antibiotics was one of the most important medical advances of the 20th Century. These drugs have saved countless lives from bacterial infections.

But in recent years, a new class of bacteria has arisen that common antibiotics like penicillin and streptomycin cannot defeat. These so-called “superbugs” are more than an annoyance. These drug-resistant diseases can cause serious illness, even death. And they may be due to doctors over-prescribing or committing other prescription errors on their patients over the decades.

The Centers for Disease Control recently estimated that drug-resistant superbugs cause more than 2 million illnesses and more than 23,000 deaths per year in the country. About 11,000 of those fatalities are due to a bacteria known as MRSA. Though that is a huge problem, MRSA infections have declined in recent years.

Another superbug may be even more troubling for readers. It is somewhat more rare than MRSA, causing about 600 fatalities annually. But it is resistant to carbapenems, a class of antibiotics often prescribed when nothing else is working.

One of the reasons these drug-resistant bacteria have arisen is that doctors have frequently prescribed antibiotics when they were not necessary. That led to new strains of bacteria that are resistant to those drugs. The director of the CDC said that doctors need to be more careful about prescribing antibiotics, or “the medicine chest will be empty” someday.

In other words, no antibiotics will be effective, and people will be vulnerable to serious infections. While other factors, such as antibiotic use on livestock, also may lead to superbugs, greater caution by physicians could make a significant impact on this trend.

Source: ABC News, “Superbugs Kill 23,000 Americans Annually,” Mike Stobbe, Sep. 16, 2013


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