Upstate New Yorkers Are Not Immune to Antibiotic-Resistant "Super Bugs"
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are infecting an estimated 30,000 upstate New Yorkers each year and causing about $300 million in excess health care spending and potentially 350 deaths, according to research by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.
“These drug-resistant ‘super bugs’ are a global problem,” said Martin Lustick, M.D., corporate medical director, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Bacteria are becoming resistant to the antibiotics we have, and there are few new antibiotics in development.”
Estimates were derived using national prescribing data issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its finding that about 30 percent of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary and inappropriate for the conditions for which they were prescribed. Those rates were then applied to US Census Bureau population figures for upstate New York.
Antibiotics treat such illnesses as strep throat and urinary tract infections that are caused by bacteria. They do nothing to treat illnesses caused by a virus.
“Too often, antibiotics are prescribed for the flu, the common cold, or acute bronchitis, all of which are caused by viruses,” said Lustick. “The overuse and inappropriate use of antibiotics results in the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, such as MRSA.”
MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) outbreaks have occurred in hospitals, schools and even on cruise ships.
Patients not taking their prescription antibiotics as directed also contribute to the development of drug-resistant super bugs. Not taking antibiotics for the full course of treatment can result in a bacterial infection coming back in an even more virulent form.
“Sometimes patients will stop taking their antibiotics when they begin to feel better and save the remainder of the pills for the next time they don’t feel well,” said Lustick. “That also contributes to the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”
When antibiotics are prescribed, Lustick urges patients to take them as directed and to complete the entire course of treatment.
“And when the doctor says that an antibiotic isn’t needed,” said Lustick, “know that he or she is making the decision to not prescribe antibiotics by keeping the patient’s health and the health of the entire community in mind.”