The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released their latest report on the state of drug-resistant “superbugs” in the United States. The news is not good. According to the report, drug-resistant superbugs are killing Americans in every U.S. state, and they now cause nearly twice as many deaths as when the CDC first started reported on them in 2013.
Superbugs are hard to treat bacteria and fungi that have developed resistance to common drugs. They mutate over time to become resistant to the drug that fights them, requiring stronger and stronger drugs with subsequent infections. Resistance can develop within a person’s body, and then spread from person to person, via animals and food or through the environment. Over time, these superbugs can become resistant to all types of drugs, requiring doctors to turn to non-drug interventions, like surgery.
Symptoms of a superbug infection usually look like any other infection and can differ from person to person. The sooner a patient starts treatment, the better their chances are, but diagnosing which drugs will work against a superbug requires laboratory testing. The doctor must balance treating the individual patient while also thinking about public health, as starting a patient on a broad-spectrum drug when they may not need it can contribute unnecessarily to antibiotic resistance. Doctors ideally stay away from prescribing these drug if unnecessary.
The 2019 report from the CDC shows that nearly 3 million people get infected by superbugs annually in the U.S., up from roughly 2 million people back in 2013. While at least 23,000 died as a result of these infections in 2013, that number has risen to 35,900 now. Two new infections have been added to the CDC’s urgent list of resistant infections since 2013: Candida auris (C. auris), a fungi, and Carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter, a bacteria. They join Clostridioides difficile (C. difficile), a group of bacteria called Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), and drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae.