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Mapping The Increasingly Urgent Problem Of Antibiotic Resistance

The most comprehensive look to date at which countries are overusing antibiotics the most.

Mapping The Increasingly Urgent Problem Of Antibiotic Resistance
[Top Photo: ostill via Shutterstock]

The overuse of antibiotics in modern medicine and agriculture has led to the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance. That’s scary, because we really need antibiotics to treat infections. Without them, diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis become more risky. Little nicks and cuts can even become full-body nightmares.

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New data from the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP), a Washington D.C. public health group, reveals the state of resistance in the U.S. and 38 other countries. It shows which places use most antibiotics, and therefore run the greatest risks, and where different types of pathogens are gaining strength against treatments.

The good news is that some countries are managing to limit their use antibiotics, including France, the U.K., and South Africa. The bad news is that these improvements are more than outweighed by increasing resistance in the developing world, where controls tend to be laxer. India, where it’s possible to buy antibiotics over the counter, has alarming levels of resistance, for example. In 2014, 57% of infections caused by the superbug Klebsiella pneumoniae were resistant to the most powerful form of “last resort” drugs, up from 29% in 2008.

“India has become this massive petri dish for growing pathogens which are then spread everywhere,” says Ramanan Laxminarayan, CDDEP’s director.

CDDEP presents its data both in a report and its ResistanceMap, which covers dozens of countries, pathogens, and drugs. Laxminarayan describes the project as the most comprehensive to date in recording resistance data and a key step to managing antibiotics more effectively so they retain their potency.

Antibiotic use is down in the U.S. since a high in the early-2000s. But that trend masks the fact that the drugs used are often stronger (and more expensive) now. In other words, science is managing to keep up with the resistance threat but it isn’t going away. Within the national trend hides a lot of regional differences, though. People in California, Hawaii, and Alaska take less than half the antibiotics that people in Kentucky and West Virginia do. Rates of use are highest across the South and have been for some time.

Laxminarayan isn’t exactly sure why, though he thinks it might be cultural. “There is nothing that indicates that people in Southern states have higher rates of infections than some of the other states. It just seems to correlate with owning guns and voting Republican,” he says.

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Take a look at the ResistanceMap tools here.

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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