A new study of more than 370,000 children finds that the drug-resistant bacteria Enterobacteriaceae infected an increasing number of American kids between 1999 and 2011. While the total number of cases remains low, researchers are still worried because the rate more than tripled over those 12 years and the infections have begun afflicting children outside of hospitals, where the bacteria is usually found.
“[T]hese antibiotic-resistant bacteria have traditionally been found in health care settings but are increasingly being found in the community, in people who have not had a significant history of health care exposure,” said lead study author Latania Logan.
What makes Enterobacteriaceae especially dangerous is that it produces an enzyme called extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL) that can fight off even the strongest antibiotics. According to the new study, the number of infections in children that were resistant to less powerful antibiotics had also doubled by 2011, and nearly three-fourths of infections in the youngest Americans aged one to five had formed resistance to multiple types of antibiotics.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, sometimes called “superbugs,” are a major concern among public health officials. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) director Dr. Tom Frieden has warned that if we don’t act on this issue soon, “our medicine cabinet will be empty and we won’t have the antibiotics we need to save lives.”
And it’s not just relatively rare bacteria like Enterobacteriaceae that are forming resistance to drugs. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that half a million people worldwide have a strain of tuberculosis that can’t be cured with the two most common drugs used to treat the infection — a situation that the organization has likened to a “ticking time bomb.” The bacteria that cause malaria and whooping cough are also becoming immune to antibiotics.
Here in the United States, CDC officials recently warned that one of the most common STDs in the United States, gonorrhea, has become increasingly resistant to the drugs used to treat it over the last three decades.