“Super” bacteria threaten European patients

Source: ECDC; click to enlarge

Are you doing anything special for European Antibiotic Awareness Day?

No? Fortunately the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has put out enough party favors for everyone: a slew of information on drug-resistant bacteria. According to an ECDC risk assessment, these  kinds of infections are on the rise across Europe.

Take Klebsiella pneumonia for example. K. pneumonia  is a drug-resistant bacteria that often causes pneumonia and urinary tract infections in hospital patients. The ECDC reports that in some EU member states, between 15% and 50% of K. pneumonia cases are resistant to carbapenems, a “last-line” antibiotic used to treat drug-resistant bacteria.

ECDC cites a couple of different causes:

  • Misuse of antibiotics. Overprescription is commonplace. People want a drug to take, rather than spend a few days under the weather. The problem is the more antibiotics are prescribed, the better the chance bacteria will develop resistance. Worse still, the ECDC estimates 50% of all antibiotic use in European hospitals may be inappropriate, making hospitals themselves breeding grounds for superbugs.
  • Lack of new antibiotics.  Hospitals rely on the same few drugs to fight infections. It’s only a matter of time before they no longer work.
  • Patient mobility. Movement of patients across borders means infections can spread further and faster than ever before.  This is especially worrisome given the rising popularity of medical tourism in South and Southeast Asia. Some medical tourists are returning home with unwanted souvenirs: drug resistant infections such as NDM-1 (a bacteria native to India).

ECDC Director Marc Sprenger commented:

Failure to act will mean that treatment options for patients with bloodstream infections, pneumonia, and urinary tract infections in hospitals will be severely limited. That is why ECDC is working very closely with the European Commission to support the implementation of its multi-disciplinary approach to combat antibiotic resistance.

The strategies for combating drug-resistant bacteria include screening patients who return from receiving treatment abroad. Better reporting systems are also needed, so that authorities can more easily track the spread of infections across borders.

You can view all the ECDC’s Antibiotic Awareness Day information here.