Superbugs: A Global Problem Compromising Advancements in Healthcare

Superbugs: A Global Problem Compromising Advancements in Healthcare

The world received a wake-up call when the World Health Organization recently announced three types of superbugs that have developed resistance to antibiotics and are in need of new antibiotic treatments. Additionally, nine other superbug families were listed as high or medium threats.

This marks the first time WHO has released a list of antibiotic-resistant pathogens as critical health risks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a similar list in 2013, highlighting the superbugs that have the greatest impact on human health.

“Antibiotic resistance isn’t a Utah problem. It’s not even a United States problem. It’s a global problem that needs to be addressed,” said Eddie Stenehjem, MD, infectious disease physician at Intermountain Medical Center. “We’re one step away from a post-antibiotic era, where we won’t have the medications that allow us to treat patients. Without a course correction, we’re going to see more and more bacterial infections that we can’t treat with our current antibiotics.”

New classes of antibiotics are difficult to bring to the market. In fact, the Pew Charitable Trust’s antibiotic-resistance report says no new classes of antibiotics have made it to the market since 1984. The challenge is compounded by the fact that no new antibiotics are in the pipeline that will can counteract the ever-evolving superbugs.

Developing new antibiotics is a longer-term solution, but antibiotic stewardship programs are working to address the problem now through proper management of the antibiotics that have already been developed. 

“Antibiotic stewardship programs ensure the right antibiotic is used at the right time for the right bug, in the right dose and for the right duration,” said Dr. Stenehjem. “They help us protect the effectiveness of the antibiotics we already have.”

Intermountain Healthcare recently launched an Infectious Disease TeleHealth program to provide access and support to its 16 smaller community hospitals that don’t have in-house infectious disease experts.

“In healthcare, we can develop new surgical techniques, new devices, or new transplant methods, but the growing threat of drug resistant bacteria will compromise our ability to make advances in medical care,” said Dr. Stenehjem. “It’s a global issue that’s going to take a global effort to address. If we fail, the cost will be in human lives.”