Battling the Superbugs

Extending the Cure Grantee Proposes an Incentive-Based Approach to Fighting Drug-Resistant Infections and Managing Antibiotic Use

    • February 26, 2009

Some 5 percent of patients admitted to a U.S. hospital will contract an infection during their stay. Such infections cause a staggering 99,000 deaths per year, and a growing proportion no longer respond to a wide range of antibiotics. These infections also drive up the cost of health care by an estimated $28 to $33 million per year.

The RWJF-funded Extending the Cure project has published three op-ed articles recently on this critical topic.

In a Chicago Tribune op-ed article, Extending the Cure Senior Fellow Ramanan Laxminarayan and University of Chicago Law Professor Anup Malani call on government leaders to take aggressive action to contain superbugs, as health officials did for swine flu. Superbugs have the power to turn a flu outbreak deadly by causing secondary bacterial infections that can’t be contained.  The authors advocate incentive-based policies to both contain these superbugs and replenish our supply of potent antibiotics.

Laxminarayan and University of Maryland Medical Center’s Eli Perencevich advocate a regional approach to infection control in health care settings, among other policies, in a Baltimore Sun op-ed. Health care-associated infections, including those caused by antibiotic-resistant superbugs, are carried by patients who move between health care facilities and can spread regionally. The authors argue that without regionally coordinated action, individual facilities have little incentive to control infections that are shared with other institutions and instead may choose to free-ride on the infection control efforts of other hospitals.

In an op-ed article in the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Laxminarayan and David Smith, Ph.D., an associate director of disease ecology at the University of Florida's Emerging Pathogens Institute in Gainesville, urge the state to adopt a rigorous strategy of identifying and flagging patients with this bug.

The Extending the Cure project is funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which supports innovative projects that may lead to breakthrough improvements in the future of health and health care.