Tag Archives: superbugs

Multiple ‘superbug’ threats in the U.S.: What to know

Photo via Pixabay

While the threat from the COVID-19 virus is fading in 2023, another pathogen is taking its place — microbes resistant to most if not all antibiotics and antifungals.

In the first three months of 2023, public health officials have reported four new health advisory alerts from bacteria and fungi — dubbed “superbugs” because of their resistance to drugs. They include Neisseria gonorrhea (causes the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea), Candida auris (a fungus that can cause bloodstream infections), Shigella (causes severe diarrhea) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (causes pneumonia and eye infections).

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How is the U.S. preparing for the “second punch” of antibiotic resistance?

Photo courtesy of the CDC.

Journalists should check in on how the U.S. government and the nation’s hospitals and medical practices intend to regain ground lost during the pandemic in the battle against superbugs. These pathogens have evolved to resist most existing antimicrobial medications, like antibiotics and antifungals.

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Antibiotic resistance: How to cover this ongoing health story beyond the COVID-19 pandemic

Image courtesy of Photos for Class.

The problem of superbugs was brewing before the pandemic and has only worsened in the past two years in some parts of the country. In 2019, the CDC said about 35,000 people a year in the U.S. die from a drug-resistant infection, up from 2013 when the agency estimated about 21,000 were dying annually from a superbug. (This is the latest national data available from the CDC.)

“We’ve seen a rise in broad-spectrum antibacterial use nationwide during this pandemic,” said Shruti Gohil, M.D., M.P.H., associate medical director of epidemiology and infection prevention at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. And “there has also been a rise in multidrug-resistant organism infections, specifically” in hospitals.

If you’re looking for important health stories that will endure post-COVID-19, get up to speed on covering antibiotic resistance. Let’s start with some background information and explore the latest data.

A deep dive into antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance is a natural phenomenon. When a patient sick with a bacteria or fungus is given an antibiotic, the drug kills most of the pathogens — enough for a patient to develop an immune response to get better. But a few pathogens may survive, and those ‘superbugs’ then multiply and spread in the environment. Older patients and those with compromised immune systems are among the most vulnerable to these resistant bacteria.

In the fourth quarter of 2020, hospitals reported a 41% increase in infection events caused by bacteriemia, a type of bloodstream, and often drug-resistant pathogen, according to the CDC. The rise in infection event was likely related to the large increase in COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals that needed ventilators and catheters and other equipment to keep them alive, but also create opportunities for bacteria to enter the body.

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Superbug threat increased by COVID-19

Photo: Matt Gibson via Flickr

A little-reported side effect of surging COVID-19 cases is the likelihood that there will be an increasing number of people exposed to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

At least 15 percent to 20 percent of people infected with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, develop a secondary bacterial infection, requiring the use of antibiotics. As a result, most hospitals are prescribing antibiotics pre-emptively to hospitalized COVID-19 patients, heightening the likelihood that more bacteria are adapting and developing resistance to these antibiotics. Continue reading

Tell stories about lab rats on the radio

A cup of coffee with a former journalist colleague led Rhode Island radio reporter Lynn Arditi down the path of reporting on “superbugs,” the term for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Arditi’s former colleague was working for LifeSpan, a large Rhode Island health system, and pitched her the story of a study authored by one of its lead researchers and infectious diseases specialists. The study was about the discovery of a set of compounds that could become a new class of antibiotics to treat drug-resistant bacteria. Continue reading