More than 2 million Americans are getting infections that are resistant to bacteria, causing 23,000 deaths each year, and the Center for Disease Control warns that that number is only going to grow unless we do something about it. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
The CDC says that half of all antibiotic use in the U.S. is unnecessary, and it's causing major problems.
"When we take an antibiotic, we wipe out all the [bacteria] that are susceptible. What are left behind are the ones that are resistant," says Dr. Lauri Hicks, medical director of the CDC's Get Smart - Know When Antibiotics Work Program. "This allows those resistant bugs to take over. The next time we develop an illness, we're much more likely to have an antibiotic-resistant illness."
Hicks says that these antibiotic-resistant bugs are rapidly outgrowing our ability to fight them.
"There are certain infections where there are no options for treatment," she says. "So we're in a desperate situation. We're heading toward a cliff."
They're trying to get the word out, pushing for policy changes in hospitals, tracking the resistance patterns, and working to develop new antibiotics and diagnostic tests.
"In the past, most of those infections were confined to hospitals, and we would see infections that were very challenging to treat in very sick patients," Hicks says. "Now, we're starting to see those infections in younger and healthier people, and we're starting to see some of them in the community, too."
Hicks says the most important action will be changing the way the drugs are used, which means teaching the public to treat antibiotics like a precious, limited resource that should only be used when absolutely needed.
"If a patient or a parent goes to a provider and asks for an antibiotic, then the provider is much more likely to prescribe one," Hicks says.
Instead, officials suggest that we ask doctors for the best treatment available, an important distinction, especially during flu season.
"Alarmingly, we see more antibiotic treatment for influenza than we see anti-viral treatment for influenza," Hicks says. "That is completely wrong."
While keeping a watchful eye on symptoms, They're pushing for a return to traditional remedies like time, rest, lots of fluids and chicken soup.