Obama Administration Announces New Plan To Stop Emergence Of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae
Carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae, pictured here, has been responsible for a slew of hospital infections involving contaminated instruments. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Antibiotic resistance has become an increasingly prevalent threat to public health around the world over the last several years. Hoping to stifle this growing problem, the Obama administration announced its “National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria” on Friday.

Each year in the U.S., an estimated two million people become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, making it difficult to find treatment options. At least 23,000 of these people end up dying, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Under the five-year plan, multiple government agencies will work together to strengthen prevention efforts and contain current outbreaks both in the U.S. and across the world.

“Antibiotic resistance is one of the most pressing public health issues facing the world today,” President Obama told WebMD. “Effective antibiotics are vital to our national security. … They are, quite simply, essential to the health of our people and people everywhere. So we should do everything in our power to ensure that antibiotics remain effective.”

Preventing the emergence of these “superbugs” will first involve better management of their use in health care and agricultural settings. Doctors are still prescribing antibiotics to patients who don’t need them. For example, a 2013 research letter found that while only 10 percent of adults with sore throat had strep, that bacterial infection that requires antibiotics, 60 percent were prescribed them. Unnecessarily using these antibiotics can cause other bacteria in the body to mutate and become resistant, which can then be passed to other more harmful bacteria.

At the same time, a study from last week found that increasing demand for meat around the world will likely drive antibiotic use in livestock up, especially in pork. The researchers predicted that by 2030, humans will be eating 67 percent more antibiotics through meat, with some parts of the world eating nearly twice as much.

By 2020, the administration hopes to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use in outpatient settings by 50 percent and in inpatient settings by 20 percent, as well as eliminate the use of “medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in food-producing animals.” Along with that, the plan also aims to improve national surveillance of antibiotic use in both health care settings and farms; improve diagnostic testing to spot antibiotic-resistant superbugs faster; move research forward to find new antibiotics; and work more closely with international agencies to fight superbugs around the world.

“It’s a good plan,” Obama said. “Now we need to carry it out. We can better protect our children and grandchildren from the reemergence of diseases and infections that the world conquered decades ago, but only if we work together, for as long as it takes.” 

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