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How Poor Antibiotic Prescribing Puts Patients at Risk for Deadly Infections

Categories: Disease Detectives, Public Health Partners, U.S. Disease Outbreaks

 Yellow-green fluorescence of Clostridium difficile (or C.diff)

Antibiotics save lives, but poor prescribing practices are putting patients at unnecessary risk for preventable allergic reactions, super-resistant infections, and deadly diarrhea. Errors in prescribing practices also contribute to antibiotic resistance, making these drugs less likely to work in the future. Because we’ve used antibiotics so widely and for so long, the infectious organisms antibiotics are designed to kill have adapted to them and made the drugs less effective. Over time, if we don’t use antibiotics correctly, we’ll lose them.

“Part of [CDC’s] role is to sound the alarm about health threats and do whatever we can to address those threats,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., “As an infectious disease doctor myself, I recall running out of antibiotic options for my patients, and I don’t want to see that kind of situation spread in this country.”

Antibiotic resistance is already a serious problem in U.S. healthcare. Each year in the United States, more than 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and 23,000 people die as a result.

This month’s Vital Signs report shows that more than half of all hospital patients receive an antibiotic. The study also found that doctors in some hospitals prescribed three times as many antibiotics as others. Inconsistencies like these are a warning sign that antibiotics may not be prescribed correctly. 

The good news is the same study shows a 30 percent reduction in the antibiotics most likely to cause C. difficile infections can reduce those infections by 26 percent. That’s almost a 1:1 impact, which proves that a focused effort on improving prescribing practices could go a long way toward protecting patients.

CDC recently released practical tools to assist hospitals in implementing stewardship programs that include a self-assessment checklist and an in-depth implementation document. CDC strongly recommends that every hospital in the country have an antibiotic stewardship program.

(Image above: Vital Signs infographic “Antibiotic Rx for Hospitals”)

“Improving antibiotic prescribing can save today’s patients from deadly superbugs and protect lifesaving antibiotics for tomorrow’s patients,” said Frieden. “Health care facilities are an important part of the solution to drug resistance, and every hospital in the country should have a strong antibiotic stewardship program.”

CDC works 24/7 to save lives and protect people. That work includes helping doctors and other healthcare providers make the right choices when it comes to antibiotics.

If you want to know more about CDC’s work in this area, visit CDC’s Safe Healthcare blog.

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