The rapid rise in antibiotic resistance during the past decade can now be visualized using ResistanceMap, a new online tool that lets you see regions of the country where the problem is particularly severe. Drug resistance is the ability of bacteria like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) to survive a treatment course with an antibiotic.

ResistanceMap was created by Extending the Cure, a research project supported by RWJF's Pioneer Portfolio. The maps show some dramatic trends, including how resistance to popular antibiotics like methicillin and ciprofloxacin has risen sharply between 2000 and 2009 among common microbes. For example, the tool shows that MRSA rates rose sharply in the United States over that period, eventually reaching levels of resistance at or greater than 60 percent in the South East Central region of the country.

Other trends between 2000 and 2009 include:

  • U.S. hospitals have seen rapid growth in resistance to a last-resort antibiotic used to treat the Acinetobacter baumannii. This bacteria’s resistance to a last-resort class of antibiotics, called carbapenems, has increased from under 5 percent in 2000 to nearly 40 percent in 2009, an eight-fold increase. The trend is worrisome because many infections caused by these bacteria, which have infected many soldiers returning home from Iraq, are associated with high mortality and cannot be treated by any antibiotic on the shelf today.
  • A sharp rise in resistant Escherichia coli, the most common cause of urinary tract infections. On average, resistance of E. coli towards ciprofloxacin, or cipro for short, increased by one-third each year. With urinary tract infections affecting one in five women over their lifetime, the looming possibility of this cheap therapy becoming obsolete will have broad economic implications.
  • A surge in MRSA in community settings. The data show that in 2000, only four of nine U.S. Census divisions had resistance rates exceeding 30 percent, but by 2005, all divisions had crossed the 40 percent threshold with resistance close to 70 percent in some areas. MRSA, once found only in hospitals, is now spreading in community settings like gyms and can cause skin and even lethal bloodstream infections.

Policy-makers and researchers can use the maps to identify regions in urgent need of comprehensive efforts to curtail the spread of superbugs, such as better infection control, enhanced surveillance, and better antibiotic stewardship.

Extending the Cure works to develop effective policies to curb antibiotic resistance, based on the understanding that antibiotics are a shared resource that must be conserved. Infections caused by drug-resistant organisms kill an estimated 100,000 people in the United States every year.

ResistanceMap will be updated monthly and will soon include interactive features, updated data on resistance rates in other countries, and new rates of U.S. antibiotic use.