United States Falling Behind In Efforts to Curb Superbugs

A new online Web tool from ResistanceMap shows the latest regional and global trends in antibiotic resistance.

    • September 27, 2011

The United States has fallen behind many Western European nations in controlling the spread of certain drug-resistant microbes or "superbugs," according to ResistanceMap, an interactive web-based tool that tracks drug resistance in North America and Europe.

The latest version of the online maps shows that despite significant gains in limiting the spread of hospital acquired Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), the United States still has one of the highest MRSA rates in the Northern Hemisphere—putting it far behind other developed European countries. MRSA is an example of a resistant microbe, one that can cause infections that are difficult to treat, if they can be treated at all.

In addition to global comparisons, these maps focus in on the United States, telling the story of resistant microbes as they have evolved over the last decade across the nation and within U.S. census divisions and specific states.

Key findings include:

  • Two of the most common disease-causing bacteria—Escherichia coli and the closely related Klebsiella pneumoniae—are rapidly gaining resistance to common antibiotics. When those standard antibiotics no longer work, physicians must experiment with combinations of drugs, often older drugs that are no longer used because they can trigger serious side effects.
  • An increasing proportion of infections caused by Acinetobacter baumannii, a micro-organism known for causing deadly wound infections in soldiers returning home from Iraq, are also failing to respond to multiple drugs. Such infections are often lethal because they resist all available antibiotics on the market today.
  • The South as a region has higher rates of resistance compared to the West or Northeastern United States. The geographic pattern was observed with most combinations of resistant micro-organisms and antibiotics, including recent trends in MRSA. For example, by the end of the last decade nearly 70 percent of staph infections in parts of the Southeast were resistant to methicillin and other related drugs compared to just 40 percent in New England.

Policymakers, researchers and healthcare workers can use these online maps to identify regions in the country or the world that might need tighter infection control. Such maps might also help researchers find models of infection control that could be used to curtail the spread of emerging superbugs, an increasingly urgent need in a world where global travel means resistant microbes can easily spread from one place to the next.

ResistanceMap is a project of Extending the Cure, a research and consultative effort that examines policy solutions to address the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. The project is based at the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy in Washington, D.C. and is partially funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Pioneer Portfolio.