The United States needs a better monitoring system to combat the threat posed by the rising number of bacteria resistant to existing antibiotics, federal officials told a Senate hearing last week.
Apart from drug-resistant tuberculosis, which is tracked in all 50 states, monitoring of antibiotic-resistant microbes remains relatively fragmented.
According to the limited data available, drug resistance can vary widely, even within states. In Maryland, for example, 15% of the strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae, the bacterium that causes pneumonia and meningitis, are resistant to penicillin. In five Tennessee counties, resistance is seen in 38% of the strains.
But this kind of reporting is not the norm, Jeffrey Koplan, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. Better monitoring, he said, as well as more research into how microbes develop resistance, needs to be stressed in the next federal budget.
New forms of drug resistance continue to develop, Koplan explained. For example, a CDC report last week identified two strains of Neisseria gonorrhoeae , the bacterium that causes gonorrhoea, that have recently become resistant to some of the drugs used to treat the condition.
Jane Henney, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner, agreed that surveillance is a key part of fighting drug-resistant microbes. Spotting resistant strains earlier allows doctors to prescribe different antibiotics, which is important, as using ineffective antibiotics promotes further resistance.
Doctors need to be more aware of the dangers of prescribing antibiotics unnecessarily, and patients should be educated about their proper use, Henney said. She also noted the need for faster development of new vaccines and antibiotics.
It remains unclear which strategies will be given highest priority in the US administration's next budget request. But the FDA, CDC, National Institutes of Health and seven other federal agencies formed a task force on drug resistance last summer. This has since released a series of recommendations, including the need for a better system to monitor drug-resistant pathogens.