The U.S. House’s Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing earlier today to discuss the response to drug-resistant “superbugs” confirmed for the first time in the nation last month.
The new strain of bacteria was detected in the urine sample of a 49-year-old woman in Pennsylvania, and has prompted health officials to evaluate possible options to combat what threatens to be the end of reliance on antibiotics to fight common infections.
“We’ve been worried for quite some time here in Congress and at the agencies about the risk of (antibiotic resistance), and this report last month about the superbug has been quite concerning to all of us,” Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colorado) said during the hearing. “The bacteria’s resistance to colistin is particularly concerning because in this country, physicians use colistin as the treatment of last resort when other antibiotics are no longer effective.”
Dr. Beth Bell, director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Disease at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), stated in her written testimony that antibiotic resistance is possibly the single “most important infectious disease threat of our time.”
“Every year, more than 2 million people in the United States get infections that are resistant to antibiotics, and at least 23,000 people die as a result,” she said.
Bell noted that in addition to those statistics, Clostridium difficile, a serious diarrheal infection associated with antibiotic use, causes at least 15,000 deaths every year in the U.S.
“Modern medicine is at stake," she said. "If we lose antibiotics, we lose the ability to effectively treat sepsis and to provide care to cancer patients, organ transplant recipients, and burn or trauma victims. Losing antibiotics would devastate our medical system."
In 2014, the CDC developed the National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria after President Barack Obama issued an executive order for the federal government to take steps to combat antibiotic resistance.
Last year, Congress appropriated $160 million to the CDC to implement the National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (CARB) to detect and respond to resistant pathogens, prevent the spread of resistant infections, and collaborate with partners to encourage innovation for new prevention strategies, Bell noted.
“CDC will invest the largest extramural portion of this funding in the 50 state health departments, the six largest local health departments and Puerto Rico,” she said. “This Antibiotic Resistance Solutions Initiative will support comprehensive and coordinated public health action to minimize the spread of antibiotic resistance across states, counties and cities.”
Bell added that, beginning this fall, CDC’s Antibiotic Resistance Lab Network will provide infrastructure and lab capacity through as many as eight regional labs across the nation.
“These labs will be able to detect resistant organisms recovered from human samples and new forms of antibiotic resistance—including mutations that allow bacteria to withstand last-resort drugs like colistin—and report these findings to CDC as well as back to facilities and states,” she said. “These efforts will generate better data for stronger infection control to contain current threats and prevent future resistance threats.”