Healthcare providers across the country continue to make modest improvements in reducing the rate of infections acquired within their facilities, according to health officials. But more needs to be done to effectively combat drug-resistant “superbugs."
Acute-care hospitals saw a 50% drop in the number of central-line bloodstream infections between 2008 and 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's annual National and State Healthcare-Associated Infections Progress Report (PDF), released Thursday.
The number of surgical-site infections declined 17% during the same period.
But the CDC urged providers to improve their use of antibiotics to lower patients' risks of acquiring an antimicrobial-resistant pathogen, six of which account for 1 in 7 catheter- and surgery-related healthcare-associated infections in acute-care hospitals, and 1 in 4 infections in long-term-care facilities.
“Doctors are the key to stamping out superbugs,” CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said during a call with reporters Thursday. “Antibiotic resistance threatens to return us to a time when a simple infection could kill.”
The CDC estimates that on any given day, 1 in 25 patients will acquire at least one infection during their hospital stay. More than 722,000 healthcare-associated infections occurred in the U.S. in 2011, resulting in 75,000 inpatient deaths.
The latest data found hospitals made progress in reducing the number of infections from Clostridium difficile, the most common type of bacteria, that accounted for half a million infections in 2011. The number of C. difficile infections decreased 8% between 2011 and 2014.
But the CDC emphasized the need to reduce the threat posed by six antibiotic-resistant pathogens. Among them is carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, which in recent years has been transmitted through contaminated medical scopes used in healthcare facilities across the country.
The agency called on healthcare providers to use appropriate cleaning protocols to prevent the risk of infection. Such efforts, along with proper monitoring and tracking of infection outbreaks when they occur are the best tools currently available to address the spread of superbugs. The CDC estimates at least 2 million Americans are infected each year, and 23,000 die from antbiotic-resistant bacteria.
Calls for action to address antibiotic resistance have grown in recent years. In January, a number of the world's leading drugmakers, including GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co. and Pfizer, pledged to promote greater antibiotic stewardship of existing antimicrobial medications to reduce their overuse.
The pledge also called on companies and governments to find a new market model that would incentivize pharmaceutical firms to develop new antibiotics, the pipeline for which has dwindled over the past decade because of poor returns on investment.
According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, 39 new antibiotics were in clinical development for the U.S. market as of September 2015. Of those, 10 were in Phase I clinical trials, 17 were in Phase II and 12 were in Phase III. With few antibiotics in development, experts say it's important to prevent existing antibiotics from becoming ineffective from overuse.
“We need to make sure that when antibiotics are indeed truly needed that antibiotics are given promptly, but also that physicians and providers are taking the most effective antibiotics and using them for the most effective duration,” said Dr. David Hyun, senior officer for the Pew Charitable Trusts' Antibiotic Resistance Project.