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Antibiotic Resistance in Bacteria is Another Crisis Worth Preventing

MRSA Antibiotic Resistance in the United States

Although a majority of MRSA cases are still limited to hospitals and intensive care units, it has become apparent that MRSA is expanding out into
communities and has become a larger public 
health crisis.

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  • In 2005, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that more people in the United States died from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureas (MRSA) than from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
  • MRSA was responsible for an estimated 94,000 life-threatening infections and 18,650 deaths, compared to the approximately 16,000 people who died from AIDS.
  • Now more than 2 million people get antibiotic-resistant infections each year and at least 23,000 die because current drugs can no longer stop their infection.

For years, epidemiologists have warned about antibiotic overuse and the drug-resistant “superbugs” that can wreak havoc in a “post-antibiotic” era, a time where none of the existing drugs work anymore and new ones haven’t been approved. With strains of MRSA and Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus moving out of the confines of our hospitals and spreading to healthy people and children in our schools, communities and even NFL locker rooms, it is apparent that it will be very hard to prevent these admonitions from becoming a reality.

The Causes of Bacterial Resistance to Antibiotics

But why have these bacteria that were once easily treatable like the common staph infection become so resistant to drugs like methicillin or vancomycin? On the surface, the answer is overuse and misuse of antimicrobial treatments. Often antibiotics are used when they are not needed or doctors prescribe dosages that are not properly adhered to, thus allowing time for bacteria to mutate and become resistant. Furthermore, according to the Alliance for Prudent Antibiotic Use (APUA) at Tufts University Medical School, the overuse of antimicrobials in our food animal production is an extremely under-appreciated problem where an estimated one-half of the antibiotics in the United States are used and abused.

What’s even scarier is the drought that has characterized the antibiotic pipeline for years as many large pharmaceutical companies have left their infectious diseases research behind due to an absence of a clearly lucrative market and the costs of launching complex clinical trials. With neither new research nor treatment habits changing, superbugs are increasingly becoming super villains. Yet, only recently have legislators tried to incentivize the pharmaceutical industry to find a superhero.

Legislation Preventing Antibiotic Resistance: The Gain Act

Similar to what occurred in the 1980s with AIDS research, President Obama signed the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act and more importantly, the Generating Antibiotics Incentives Now (GAIN) Act to stimulate and prioritize antimicrobial treatments. It gives pharmaceutical companies a “qualified infections disease products” status that allows for an additional five years of market exclusivity – with or without a patent. The GAIN act has spurred research tremendously and has brought many players back into the market, including a recent FDA advisory panel meeting that recommended the approval of two new drugs for MRSA treatment. However, we may have many years ahead of us without a proper cure to this issue and it is a telling sign of the type of crisis science that defines our system today.

The Role of Public Health Communications in Preventing Superbugs

Superbugs are a result of a lack of prevention, an over-treatment to an under-marketed problem. As public relations professionals, success and failure often depends on how well a crisis is avoided or mitigated. Prevention is crucial to keeping your client satisfied and although crisis communication has been an all too common issue for the pharmaceutical industry, taking the patience to strategically anticipate problems through communication, research and development helps keep the company in high regard. In that respect, here are eight solutions from Medscape that pharmaceutical companies and society as a whole can do to prevent further antibiotic resistance and harm to themselves:

  1. Collect data
  2. Stop antibiotic use on farms
  3. Practice antibiotic stewardship ‘
  4. Reduce inappropriate usage in outpatients
  5. Adopt rapid diagnostic tests
  6. Develop new drugs
  7. Integrate antibiotic resistance initiatives into healthcare reform
  8. Create a plan of action

Antibiotic resistance is an issue that can easily be avoided but effective public health communication to stakeholders such as doctors and hospitals is necessary. Furthermore, superbugs are a direct result of the responsive mentality that has plagued this nation’s health and wellness for years. Recently, an outbreak of MMR (Mumps) and Pertussis (Whooping Cough), two highly preventable diseases, have been spotlighted in California. Vaccines for these diseases are easily available and yet actions are only taken when the illness occurs.

In order to resolve this constant dilemma concerning America’s health, PR professionals are essential in this campaign. Through concerted messaging and educational awareness campaigns from pharmaceutical companies and the FDA, society is capable of fending of the ailments of today while preventing the public health rogues of tomorrow.