Scientists have been concerned for some time about "Phantom Menace"-type superbugs that aren't fazed by meds. The latest CDC data finds that 2 million people a year in the US are infected with bacteria resistant to antibiotics, and at least 23,000 die directly from those infections. And a new report from the CDC and the Pew Charitable Trusts—the first research to quantify this issue, per the Washington Post—isn't encouraging. A study published Tuesday in JAMA finds nearly one in three antibiotic prescriptions (around 47 million per year) are given needlessly to people with viruses such as bronchitis and the common cold, as well as for ear and sinus infections and sore throats not caused by bacterial infections—meaning the Rx not only won't vanquish their illness, but can potentially build up antibiotic resistance, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Besides the drug resistance, overuse can up the risk for drug allergies and even an unpleasant-sounding diarrhea that can be fatal.
The researchers analyzed 184,032 outpatient visits to ERs and medical clinics in 2010 and 2011 and found that 12.6% walked out with an antibiotic script, per the Pharmacy Times. Out of an estimated annual antibiotic-prescription rate of 506 per every 1,000 people, only about 353 of those who received prescriptions should likely have received them. The Times notes President Obama's initiative to cut down on unnecessary outpatient antibiotic use by 50% by 2020; researchers say that, based on this study, we'll need to slash overall antibiotic use by 15% to meet that. "If we continue down the road of inappropriate use we'll lose the most powerful tool we have to fight life-threatening infections," CDC Director Tom Frieden says. "Losing these antibiotics would undermine our ability to treat patients with deadly infections [and] cancer, provide organ transplants, and save victims of burns and trauma." (Here's hoping teixobactin can help us out with superbugs.)