Superbug Declines in UK Hospitals After Fewer Antibiotics Used

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Superbugs have become a serious threat to public health with the CDC announcing recently that upwards of 23,000 Americans suffered deaths caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. There is a sign that this trend may be about to change, as new research published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal suggests that superbugs caused fewer fatalities in UK hospitals over the last decade.

The amount of Britons affected by the bug known as c.difficile rose between 1990 and 2007, prompting action by the National Health Service (NHS). “Alarming increases in UK hospital infections and fatalities caused by C. difficile made headline news during the mid-2000s and led to accusations of serious failing in infection control,” said co-author Derrick Cook, a professor at the University of Oxford.

The government’s response was twofold. It instructed a deep clean of each hospital, but it turned out that hygiene was not the issue. Alongside that action they sought to prescribe fewer broad-spectrum antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin. When the amount of cases of c.difficule dropped – by 80% in ten years – researchers investigated and discovered withdrawal in antibiotic use was the cause.

Broad-spectrum antibiotics wipe out all bacteria, good and bad. Through their research, scientists discovered that they killed off all gut bacteria except the deadliest, c.difficile, which was then allowed to flourish. The bacteria mainly affects older adults and can lead to diarrhea or life-threatening inflammation of the colon.

“Bugs similar to C. difficile that affected the UK have spread around the world, added co-author Mark Wilcox, a professor of microbiology at the University of Leeds, “and so it is plausible that targeted antibiotic control could help achieve large reductions in C. diff infections in other countries.”

The overuse of antibiotics in the US has already been documented, with researchers last year reporting that 1 in 3 prescribed are completely unnecessary – yet some MDs feel pressured to write prescriptions for patients even when they have viral illnesses. The more exposure to antibiotics, the more chance the body has of becoming immune to them. This happened last month, when a woman died in the Nevada after contracting a superbug resistant to 26 different types of antibiotic.

The CDC states that c.difficile causes almost half a million infections in the US each year. 29,000 patients died within 29 days of being diagnosed.

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