superbugs antibiotics, superbug e coli, superbug antibiotics

Despite Warnings, Some Hospitals Increase Antibiotic Use

November 11, 2008 10:28 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Although public health officials have warned against the overuse of antibiotics, a new study suggests that some hospitals are using them more frequently.

Use of Two Antibiotics Rose Sharply


A study published this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine said that although health officials have warned of bacteria becoming resistant to medication, antibiotic use at 22 academic medical centers in the United States increased by 7 percent between 2002 and 2006.

“We know from past experience that when we start using any antimicrobial drug excessively, that resistance to that drug eventually appears,” the lead investigator, Ronald Polk, told Reuters.

The study found that at these centers, the use of two antibiotics in particular rose sharply. Use of vancomycin increased by 43 percent between 2002 and 2006, while ther use of Zosyn, which is also known as piperacillin-tazobactam, rose by 84 percent, Reuters reported. 

Polk's study is one step toward offering more hard data on the issue of antibiotic use.

"While over-use of antibiotics is a major concern of public health experts, documentation of the problem at U.S. hospitals has been difficult to come by. Polk said the findings at these hospitals probably reflect trends across the United States," Reuters said.

Antibiotic troubles aren't limited to the United States. In September, hospitals in Britain reported that gram-negative bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to the antibiotics currently available. Cases of drug-resistant Escherichia coli, the “big beast” of gram-negative bacteria, tripled between 2000 and 2006, and there is a lack of new antibiotics reaching the market.

“Hospitals are having to use what were second-line antibiotics first,” said Dr. David Livermore, laboratory director at the Health Protection Agency Centre for Infections. “We are not actually running out of antibiotics, however we are now having to use our last-defence antibiotics first in some hospital infections.”

Livermore said that drug companies have been successful in developing antibiotics to combat MRSA (methicillin resistant stapyloccocus aureus), which devastated hospitals and reached the broader community last year. MRSA cases have dropped, but cases of gram-negative bacteria are rising and drug companies are slow to produce new antibiotics because they are not profitable.

Several major companies have pulled out of antibiotic development,” he said. “They have not been seen as a particularly profitable area. If you develop a new heart drug, the patient is on it for a matter of years and resistance doesn't develop. With antibiotics on the other hand, the patient is on it for one or two years and resistance may develop."

The problem is made worse by overuse of antibiotics, which increases the resistance of superbugs. The HPA warned patients and doctors against using antibiotics for common colds and coughs, while England’s Chief Medical Officer told doctors to stop prescribing antibiotics for viruses.

Background: The E. coli superbug

British doctors first noticed a rise in E. coli infections last fall with the development the drug-resistant strain Extended-Spectrum Beta-Lactamase (ESBL). E. coli cases previously had been confined to the elderly, but many young healthy people were developing ESBL.

Experts blamed imported meat from animals that may have been fed antibiotics used to treat serious E. coli cases. “We restrict the use of antibiotics in most people because we know that when we use any antibiotic, resistance develops,” Professor Peter Collignon, advisor to the World Health Organization. “I find it perverse that we are using these types of drugs in food animals.”

In February, medical journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases published a study detailing the ESBL. “It is possible that, in the near future, clinicians will be regularly confronted with the hospital types of bacteria causing infections in patients in the community, a scenario very similar to that of community-acquired MRSA,” it said.

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