Quantcast

Misuse of Antibiotics Fuels Fatal 'Superbug' Crisis

Health + Wellness

The drugs people have relied on for more than 70 years to fight bacterial infections, from everyday cuts to potentially deadly pneumonia, are becoming powerless due mainly to misuse.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than half the antibiotics used in the U.S. are prescribed unnecessarily or used improperly.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Consumer Reports has pointed to three main culprits for the weakening of antibiotic: doctors, patients and people raising animals for meat

That misuse, which includes prescribing or using antibiotics incorrectly, breeds dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria, known as "superbugs," that can’t be easily controlled.

Alarmed by the worsening situation, health leaders are working to change how consumers use antibiotics.

In a report released Tuesday, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged hospitals to prescribe and administer antibiotics more sparingly and to track and prevent hospital-acquired infections more vigorously. The Food and Drug Administration wants the meat and poultry industry to cut back on the use of the drugs. And many medical organizations, as part of a program called Choosing Wisely, have highlighted situations in which the drugs are often overused.

But experts say those efforts won't be successful unless patients take part by refusing antibiotics when they aren't necessary and taking steps to reduce their use at home.

The CDC estimates that more than half the antibiotics used in the U.S. are prescribed unnecessarily or used improperly.

However, the problem goes past doctors' offices as many people now use antibacterial cleaning products that "contain triclosan or other antibiotics,” said Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., director of the Consumer Reports Center for Safety and Sustainability. “These products may promote resistance, and plain soap and water is enough to get most cleaning jobs done.”

Farms also elevate the resistance risk: Roughly 80 percent of antibiotics purchased in the U.S. are fed to livestock to accelerate growth and prevent disease in healthy animals. Yet this seemingly harmless practice also breeds superbugs, which can spread in the environment, contaminate food supplies and undermine the effectiveness of antibiotics.

The Superbug Crisis 

Antibiotic-resistant infections, like staphylococcus aureus, sicken at least 2 million Americans per year and kill more than 23,000, according to a 2013 CDC report. Those infections can happen anywhere, but they’re especially deadly when they're spread in hospitals, nursing homes or other health care centers.

Now the crisis is slowly worsening as drugmakers spend less time and money creating new antibiotics, even as more bacteria are becoming resistant to older drugs.

What You Can Do

  • Wash hands regularly
  • Only use antibiotic creams when necessary
  • Fight off mild to moderate colds yourself with doctor's approval
  • Don't use leftover drugs
  • Consider buying “no antibiotics” or “USDA organic” meat: Tests of turkey and chicken suggest that poultry raised without antibiotics may be less likely to carry resistant bacteria. Also, buying antibiotic-free meat supports farmers who keep livestock off unneeded drugs and helps sustain the desired effectiveness of antibiotics.

Visit EcoWatch’s HEALTH page for more related news on this topic.

 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A new study shows that half of all Arctic warming and corresponding sea-loss during the late 20th century was caused by ozone-depleting substances. Here, icebergs discharged from Greenland's Jakobshavn Glacier. Kevin Krajick / Earth Institute / EurekAlert!

The world awakened to the hole in the ozone layer in 1985, which scientists attributed it to ozone depleting substances. Two years later, in Montreal, the world agreed to ban the halogen compounds causing the massive hole over Antarctica. Research now shows that those chemicals didn't just cut a hole in the ozone layer, they also warmed up the Arctic.

Read More
Diane Wilson holds up a bag full of nurdles she collected from one of Formosa's outfall areas on Jan. 15. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog

By Julie Dermansky

On the afternoon of Jan. 15, activist Diane Wilson kicked off a San Antonio Estuary Waterkeeper meeting on the side of the road across from a Formosa plastics manufacturing plant in Point Comfort, Texas.

After Wilson and the waterkeeper successfully sued Formosa, the company agreed to no longer release even one of the tiny plastic pellets known as nurdles into the region's waterways. The group of volunteers had assembled that day to check whether the plant was still discharging these raw materials of plastics manufacturing.

Read More
Sponsored

By Simon Coghlan and Kobi Leins

A remarkable combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and biology has produced the world's first "living robots."

Read More
Malaysian Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin (front 2nd L) and officials inspect a container containing plastic waste shipment on Jan. 20, 2020 before sending back to the countries of origin. AFP via Getty Images

The Southeast Asian country Malaysia has sent 150 shipping containers packed with plastic waste back to 13 wealthy countries, putting the world on notice that it will not be the world's garbage dump, as CNN reported. The countries receiving their trash back include the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Canada.

Read More
Trump leaves after delivering a speech at the Congress Centre during the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos on Jan. 21, 2020. JIM WATSON / AFP via Getty Images

U.S. President Donald Trump dismissed the concerns of environmental activists as "pessimism" in a speech to political and business leaders at the start of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on Tuesday.

Read More