According to the new research, spikes in prescription sales for two popular classes of antibiotics during flu season led to a rapid increase, one month later, in resistant Escherichia coli, or E. coli, in hospitals. This superbug can cause potentially serious urinary tract and other infections that can lengthen hospital stays and drive up the cost of care.
The study also showed that increases in prescriptions during flu season for two other classes of antibiotics were linked to a rise in methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, a superbug that kills about 19,000 people annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
People suffering from the flu often ask for, and get, an antibiotic, even though these drugs cannot kill the influenza virus—or any virus. Research by Extending the Cure suggests that up to 1 million unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions are written during flu season.
Hospital- and other healthcare-associated infections, including those resistant to antibiotics, now account for nearly 2 million illnesses and kill about 99,000 people annually in the U.S. In addition to the lives lost, such infections are responsible for $20 billion in excess healthcare costs, including those shouldered by hospitals.
What can we do?
Many hospitals already have inpatient stewardship programs to encourage the use of antibiotics only when indicated. They also have infection-control measures in place to curb the spread of resistant infections from one hospital patient to the next. However, those efforts alone will not be enough.