In a highly unusual new report, the Centers for Disease Control warned that America is threatened by a wave of new antibiotic-proof germs that could threaten public health, and that overuse of antibiotics in health care and industrial agriculture bears much of the blame.
The 112-page report on antibiotic resistance threats says that for sick and elderly patients, the post-antibiotic era is already here. More than 246,000 patients each year are infected with antibiotic-proof chlamydia, there are more than 2,000,000 reported cases each year of illnesses caused by antibiotic-proof bacteria or fungi, and 23,000 of these infections result in death. The CDC warned that these are all conservative estimates.
“If we are not careful, we will soon be in a post-antibiotic era,” CDC director Tom Frieden told Wired. “And for some patients and for some microbes, we are already there.”
In polite, diplomatic language, the CDC excoriated industrial agriculture in the United States for massive overuse of antibiotics in animals destined for supermarkets and restaurants. According to the report, “use of antibiotics in food-producing animals allows antibiotic-resistant bacteria to thrive while susceptible bacteria are suppressed or die.” Continuous antibiotic use in healthy animals is a common feature in American industrial agriculture since it drastically cuts costs for corporations and promotes animal growth.
In the health care sector, the CDC argues that medical facilities overprescribe antibiotics–especially nursing homes and hospitals–to make up for infections caught inside the facilities themselves. The report implies that an overwillingness by hospitals to give patients antibiotics is also helping to fuel the explosion in antibiotic-proof infections.