The CDC has issued its first official report on the threat posed by antibiotic-resistant disease organisms. The report shows that over 2 million Americans develop antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections each year, and that over 23,000 people die as a result of those infections.
The number of deaths is actually a bit lower than previous unofficial estimates. That’s because the CDC deliberately took a conservative approach, including in its estimates only deaths that were a direct result of an antibiotic-resistant infection. Many more deaths were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection, but were not necessarily caused primarily by the infection. By including only deaths directly caused by such infections, the report will serve as an important baseline against which future changes in antibiotic resistance can be measured.
For some time now, health officials have been warning that over-use of antibiotics is encouraging the development of antibiotic resistance. Over 70% of antibiotic use in the U.S. is to prevent the development of infections in healthy animals that are at risk of infections because they are housed close together, such as cattle in feedlots. Many of the prescriptions for antibiotics written for humans are unnecessary as well. Antibiotics do not shorten the duration of a cold or the flu, for example, but people who are suffering from a cold or the flu still ask for them, and many doctors oblige.