WXXI AM News

Local hospitals look to combat superbugs

Nov 14, 2019

The federal Centers for Disease Control issued a report this week warning about the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria -- so-called "superbugs" -- but officials at Rochester hospitals said they are aware of the threat and are taking measures to counter it.

A Centers for Disease Control illustration of a multidrug-resistant bacteria, pseudomonas aeruginosa.
Credit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

"Everyone is at risk" from antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the CDC said.

Emil Lesho, hospital epidemiologist at Rochester Regional Health, said that's not an overstatement.

"It's not an exaggeration. I don't think they're exaggerating it at all," Lesho said.

The problem with antibiotic resistance, doctors said, is that it neutralizes the best weapon they have to fight infections. When antibiotics don't work, the diseases often win.

The CDC said more than 35,000 people die from antibiotic-resistant infections each year in the U.S.

At the University of Rochester Medical Center, infectious disease researcher Ghinwa Dumyati said widespread antibiotic resistance has passed the point of a theoretical prediction of the future.

"We're already there," she said.

Many of the procedures that have become routine in modern medicine -- C-section births, organ transplants, kidney dialysis -- are possible because of antibiotics, doctors said. If antibiotics don't work reliably, those operations can't happen.

Strong Memorial Hospital epidemiologist Paul Graman said much of the work of reversing that trend needs to start in hospitals. He said doctors need to be prescribing fewer antibiotics -- but that's a hard thing to teach, because in the short term, antibiotics often seem like the best solution to an infection.

"It's really a constant process of education of physicians and nurses," Graman said.

Doctors said drug resistance is an evolutionary process, so the fewer antibiotics doctors prescribe, the less chance bacteria have to become resistant to them.

Other steps to reduce the growth of antibiotic resistance need to happen outside of hospitals.

Lesho said reduced vaccination rates in some local communities are "concerning" because they increase the spread of diseases and therefore increase the number of antibiotics that are used to fight outbreaks.

Dumyati said antibiotics are also used to accelerate livestock growth. She says that practice pumps more of the drugs into the environment and speeds the development of superbugs.

In 2007, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter sponsored a bill to phase out antibiotics in animals raised for food production. The bill died in committee.