Study: Antibiotic Research Critical as Resistance Crisis Looms

(CN) – The severe lack of research on resistant bacteria results in roughly 2 million infections and 100,000 deaths per year in the U.S. due to overuse of antibiotics, according to a study published Wednesday.

Scanning electron micrograph of human neutrophil ingesting MRSA bacteria. (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

In a white paper written by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) and published in the journal Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, researchers draw attention to significant gaps in antibiotic research and emphasize the importance of antibiotic stewardship programs.

“Antibiotic stewardship is crucial to maintaining the effectiveness of life-saving treatments and preventing harm to patients and the wider community,” said SHEA president Hilary Babcock in a statement. “We developed this research agenda to draw attention to serious gaps in our knowledge for future investigators and funders.”

These stewardship programs are still in the early stages of development according to medical director and lead author Andrew Morris, but despite a lack of funding they have become an important tool for determining appropriate antibiotic use.

“For most infections, we don’t know the optimal drug, dose or treatment duration. For many, we don’t even know if they require antibiotic treatment,” Morris said.

In their paper, the authors highlight the four major gaps in antibiotic knowledge: optimal antibiotic prescribing practices, implementation of effective interventions, standardized processes and outcome metrics, and infrastructure to support data collection and sharing.

They also identify specific areas where more clinical evidence is needed to determine correct antibiotic prescriptions including pneumonia, urinary tract infections, skin and soft tissue infections, diabetic foot infections, intra-abdominal infections, and prevention of bacterial infections.

Although stewardship programs are increasingly necessary in the medical field, the authors add more research and funding are essential to their development. More research is needed to determine how staff should operate and how to involve more nurses in the program. Funding has unfortunately been an issue for these programs because they fall in between the jurisdiction of public health and clinical research.

“Because antibiotic stewardship represents the interface of public health, epidemiological research, and clinical research, clear federal funding pathways need to be created,” Morris said. “The National Institute of Health funds science but won’t fund stewardship because it is largely epidemiologically based and involves public health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funds public health, but it won’t fund research that evaluates different interventions.”

The authors hope their call to action will draw more attention to the antibiotic resistance crisis, and that these essential stewardship programs will receive the support and funding they desperately need.

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