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KU Pathologist Welcomes Federal Initiative To Fight Antibiotic Resistance

President Obama on Thursday issued an executive order directing the federal government to step up the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

It’s a fight with enormous consequences, according to Rebecca Horvat, who oversees infectious disease testing at the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan. Horvat is well familiar with bacteria that are impervious to front-line antibiotics.

“Half of them are very antibiotic-resistant," she says. "You only have a few drugs left to treat them. I see it every day.”

The day is coming when disease-causing bacteria will develop resistance to all current antibiotics, Horvat says.

“We’ll go back to the pre-antibiotic age, where mothers will see half their children die from infections. That’s really what used to happen,” she says. “A lot of your parents will die earlier, because as they get older they get sicker, and there’s no antibiotics left. I don’t mean to make it seem scary, but that is where we’re going.”

Horvat doesn’t know how soon that scenario might play out. She says one simple step everyone can take is to wash their hands to reduce the spread of bacteria.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, antibiotic-resistant infections are associated with 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses in the United States each year. The annual impact on the national economy is estimated at $20 billion in excess direct health care costs, and as much as $35 billion in lost productivity from hospitalizations and sick days.

In conjunction with Thursday's executive order, a science advisory council released a report to President Obama on how to combat antibiotic resistance. Among other steps, it calls for reducing overuse of antibiotics in humans and livestock, increasing incentives to spur development of new antibiotics and improving the monitoring of the development and spread of drug-resistant bacteria.

In addition to the scientific report and the president’s executive order, the White House released a National Strategy for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria. It also announced a $20 million prize sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, and the Food and Drug Administration to spur the development of a rapid diagnostic test to allow healthcare providers to identify highly resistant bacterial infections at the point of patient care.

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