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Superbugs galore: Four out of five Americans now prescribed antibiotics each year ... What could possibly go wrong?


(NaturalNews) Four out of five people in the United States are prescribed an antibiotic every year, according to a new study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The findings reflect a steadily increasing rate of antibiotic use over the past several decades, which has led to a corresponding increase in the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. The CDC now tracks at least 20 different antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains.

"There are infections out there that have become almost impossible to treat," said Lauri Hicks, one of the study's authors and medical director of the CDC. "We really are on the verge of going down a path where there may be nothing that works. Now we're seeing young, healthy people getting these highly resistant infections requiring hospitalization where in the past a simple oral antibiotic would have taken care of it."

Rates too high in every state

The CDC study, which reviewed a national prescription drug database, was the first to examine antibiotic prescription rates in every state, and among the entire U.S. population. Previous studies have typically looked at specific demographics, such as Medicare patients.

The researchers found that a total of 258 million antibiotic prescriptions were written in the United States in 2010. Given the U.S. population of about 309 million, that comes out to 833 antibiotic prescriptions per 1,000 people. These results varied widely by region, however. Prescription rates in the South were highest, averaging 936 per 1,000 people. They were lowest in the West, averaging 639 per 1,000 people. By state, the highest rates were in West Virginia (1.237 per person) and Kentucky (1.232), while the lowest were in Alaska (0.529), Oregon (0.595) and California (0.6).

"Why is West Virginia more than double compared to Alaska? I imagine there are provider factors, patient factors and cultural factors that are all shaping the impact," Hicks said.

The relatively high prescribing rates in the South may ultimately be a distraction, however, as many experts warn that even the rates in Western states are likely too high.

Indeed, the data suggests that doctors are not necessarily following the best prescribing practices. For example, they showed that the most commonly prescribed antibiotic was azithromycin, which is known to be regularly given for bronchitis. Yet nearly all bronchitis is viral, and thus does not respond to antibiotics.

"Some of the prescribing may not be warranted," Hicks said.

Reckless prescribing may cause 'end of modern medicine'

The big problem with antibiotic overuse is that it speeds the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria, without providing any justified health benefit.

Because bacteria naturally vary in their resistance to toxic chemicals such as antibiotics, a small number will typically survive a course of antibiotics. By definition, these are the only bacteria to then pass their (drug-resistant) genes on to the next generation.

Experts are sounding increasingly alarmist warning bells about the rising prevalence of superbugs. In November, World Health Organization head Margaret Chan called it "a global health crisis."

"More and more governments recognize (it is) one of the greatest threats to health today."

"Super bugs haunt hospitals and intensive care units all around the world," Chan said, threatening to bring about "a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections will once again kill."

Chan noted that modern medicine is founded on the use of antibiotics. Now-routine procedures such as cancer treatment, surgery and care of premature infants, all require effective antibacterial drugs. The loss of these drugs, she said, "will mean the end of modern medicine as we know it."

That future seems to be fast approaching. According to a recent British government report, the number of people suffering a "significant antibiotic-resistant infection," and the number of people being treated with "last-resort" antibiotics, both increased significantly between 2010 and 2014.

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