Protecting Against Superbugs

Letter to the Editor of the Washington Post by Jennifer Yttri, PhD

March 10, 2013

The March 6 news article “ ‘Nightmare bacteria’ is a growing threat” raised the question of how best to address the danger from drug-resistant bacteria.

Doctors too often prescribe newer antibiotics, which are supposed to be the “last line of defense” rather than a first choice. Patients often demand antibiotics inappropriately, but the buck stops with doctors, who should refuse to prescribe them when not needed. Experts are calling for a “detect and protect” strategy: careful surveillance combined with substantial restrictions (voluntary or not) on the use of the newest antibiotics. Otherwise, bacteria will quickly become resistant to any antibiotic that is in widespread use.

Eighty percent of antibiotics in the United States are given to animals, and this is another area in which action can be taken to prevent antibiotic resistance. The Delivering Antimicrobial Transparency in Animals Act, introduced last month in the House, would require better reporting and monitoring of how antibiotics are being used in animals to eventually eliminate non-therapeutic use of medically important antibiotics.

Outbreaks such as that of the Klebsiella superbug at the National Institutes of Health last year serve as an important reminder that we need to address the threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria before the nightmare becomes reality.

Jennifer Yttri, Arlington

The writer is a senior fellow at the National Research Center for Women and Families.