Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest public health threats of the 21st century—in Minnesota and across the globe. Every year, approximately 2 million Americans develop an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection and at least 23,000 of them die. Public health leaders are calling attention to antibiotic resistance and how to stop it during U.S. Antibiotics Awareness Week, Nov. 13-19.
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria are able to resist drugs designed to kill them. Due to a variety of factors – including overuse of those antibiotic drugs – more kinds of bacteria have become more resistant to more classes of antibiotics in recent decades.
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) can see the consequences through its tracking of key antibiotic-resistant infections. In 2016, MDH recorded 380 cases of Enterobacteriaceae infections resistant to a type of antibiotic called carbapenem. In the five counties where MDH tracks for Clostridium difficile (also known as C.diff), there were 1,152 cases of infection in 2016. C. difficile can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to colitis and can be fatal in serious cases. Most cases of C. diff occur in patients taking antibiotics. Good use of antibiotics can help prevent the spread of C. diff.
As a way to fight antibiotic resistance, health officials emphasize the importance of antibiotic stewardship – the practice of using an antibiotic only when needed and using the right antibiotic at the right dose for the right length of time.
“Antibiotics are a critical public health tool. We count on them to treat bacterial infections.” said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, state epidemiologist and medical director at MDH. “We have to use them carefully now, in order for them to remain effective tools in the future.”
Both health care providers and patients have a role to play. Each year in the U.S., millions of unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions are written in doctors’ offices, emergency rooms, and hospitals. The widespread use of antibiotics has made infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria more common in health care settings and in the community. This results in higher health care costs, poorer health outcomes and a need for treatment with more toxic drugs.
During cold and flu season, it can be tempting to insist on an antibiotic from your health care provider to help you feel better, but antibiotics will not work against these and other viral illnesses. Taking antibiotics when they are not needed can do more harm than good by increasing your risk of a bad reaction to a drug or getting an antibiotic-resistant infection later.
“It will take a team effort to stop antibiotic resistance,” Lynfield said. “We need collaboration among health care providers and the public here in Minnesota and across the globe to slow antibiotic resistance.”
Some things you can do to help fight antibiotic resistance:
- Wash your hands, cover your cough and get vaccinated to help avoid infections and decrease the need for antibiotics.
- Do not ask for antibiotics if your health care provider, dentist or veterinarian thinks they are unnecessary.
- Take antibiotics exactly as directed and for the full period of time when they are prescribed.
- Do not share antibiotics—only take antibiotics prescribed for you. Antibiotics treat specific infections. Taking the wrong medicine might make things worse.
- Do not save antibiotics for your next illness. Properly dispose of any leftover medication once the prescribed course of treatment is completed. Information on proper disposal of medication can be found on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency website.
This week, for the first time, MDH is recognizing honorees of the Minnesota Antibiotic Stewardship Honor Roll for Hospitals. Twenty-six hospitals have shown their commitment, action, and collaboration for antibiotic stewardship in their applications to this statewide recognition program. Rice Memorial Hospital is one of fifteen Minnesota hospitals that received the highest Gold Level designation. Names of the honor roll hospitals can be found on the Minnesota Antibiotic Stewardship Honor Roll webpage.
To underscore the importance of fighting antibiotic resistance, Governor Mark Dayton has proclaimed Nov. 13-19, “U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week” in Minnesota. The proclamation can be viewed at Governor Dayton Proclamations.
The week coincides with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) observance of U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week, which is an annual one-week observance to raise awareness of antimicrobial resistance and the importance of appropriate antibiotic prescribing and use. The attention is global as the week coincides with similar observances across the world.
MDH conducts antibiotic stewardship activities throughout the year and offers toolkits, education and resources for health care professionals. MDH has also partnered with other state agencies to form the One Health Antibiotic Stewardship Collaborative.