Antibiotics are powerful tools used to treat patients with life-threatening infections, cancer, organ transplants, severe burns, and trauma, but they are being overprescribed and not being taken as directed, which is causing them to be less effective.
“We are at risk of losing this powerful medical tool,” says Lorna Fitzpatrick, MD, vice president for medical affairs and senior medical director at Univera Healthcare. “This isn’t about people becoming resistant to antibiotics, but rather bacteria developing the ability to defeat the antibiotics designed to kill them,” She stresses the importance of taking antibiotics as directed and completing the entire course of treatment.
This year, an estimated 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections will occur in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more than 35,000 people will die as a result. Globally, bacteria that are antibiotic-resistant will kill at least 1.2 million people directly and be associated with nearly 5 million deaths, making it among the leading causes of death worldwide.
A 2021 CDC report on outpatient antibiotic prescriptions found that health care professionals that year wrote 211 million prescriptions for antibiotics. According to Fitzpatrick, it is common for antibiotics to be prescribed for conditions they won’t help.
Antibiotics will treat illnesses caused by bacteria, such as strep throat or urinary tract infections. They won’t treat illnesses caused by a virus, such as the common cold, uncomplicated upper respiratory tract infections, COVID-19, or flu. Antibiotics also aren’t needed for bronchitis or many sinus and ear infections.
“Warnings about the overuse of antibiotics are not new,” says Fitzpatrick. In 2014, the World Health Organization warned of a post-antibiotic era, when common infections and minor injuries might again be fatal, as they often were before antibiotics were introduced.
In 2019, Robert R. Redfield, M.D., then Director of the CDC, reported that the post-antibiotic era is here, writing, “You and I are living in an time when some miracle drugs no longer perform miracles and families are being ripped apart by a microscopic enemy.”
When dangerous bacteria adapt and thrive, they can infect people, health care facilities, food and water supplies, and spread across our communities and around the globe, affecting nearly every aspect of life, according to the CDC.
“Educating those who prescribe antibiotics is the first step, since patients can’t get them without a prescription,” says Fitzpatrick. “Step two is getting patients to take their medications as directed and accept that when their health care provider says an antibiotic isn’t needed, it isn’t needed!”
The CDC has more on the appropriate use of antibiotics, online at www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use.
Univera Healthcare is a nonprofit health plan that serves members across the eight counties of Western New York. With more than 500 Buffalo-based employees and a local leadership team, the company is committed to attracting and retaining a diverse workforce to foster innovation and better serve its members. It also encourages employees to engage in their communities by providing paid volunteer time off as one of many benefits. Univera is part of a Rochester-based health insurer that serves more than 1.5 million members across upstate New York. Its mission is to help people live healthier and more secure lives through access to high-quality, affordable health care, and its products and services include cost-saving prescription drug discounts, wellness tracking tools and access to telemedicine. To learn more, visit UniveraHealthcare.com.