Antibiotic Awareness Week: Why It Matters
Antibiotics are medicine's first line of defense against infectious disease. Since the 1940s, antibiotics such as penicillin have greatly reduced illness and death from such diseases, making antibiotics a true modern medical success story. Unfortunately, these drugs are a victim of their own achievements. They have been used so widely and for so long that the bacteria that they are designed to kill have evolved and adapted, leading to antibiotic resistance and rendering the drugs less effective.
The result: each year in the United States, more than 2 million people become infected with bacteria that resist treatment by antibiotic medications. At least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections. Many more die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection.
Antibiotic resistance therefore poses a serious threat to the U.S. health care system—a fact underscored by the creation and continued implementation of the National Strategy and National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, commonly known as "CARB." This is why AHRQ is committed to combating antibiotic resistance and is proud to support the annual U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week, which begins today.
The observance, sponsored by our colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a key component of national efforts to improve antibiotic stewardship in the United States. Stewardship is an organized approach that promotes appropriate antibiotic use by prescribers and patients, which can slow the development of antibiotic resistance and reduce the threat of resistant infections.
AHRQ's Healthcare-Associated Infections (HAI) Program is active in all three CARB domains: promoting antibiotic stewardship, preventing transmission of resistant bacteria, and preventing HAIs in the first place. We're working collaboratively with our Federal colleagues and with private-sector partners under the National Action Plan's framework to significantly improve how antibiotics are used in the United States.
AHRQ's role is to fund original research to develop more effective methods for combating antibiotic resistance and preventing HAIs and to promote the wide-scale implementation of these methods. A good example is the Comprehensive Unit-based Safety Program, or CUSP, which was developed at Johns Hopkins with AHRQ support. CUSP is a program that combines improvement in safety culture, teamwork, and communication with a checklist of evidence-based practices to transform how clinical teams approach safety challenges like infection prevention and antibiotic stewardship.
CUSP is an example of what makes AHRQ's work unique: we invest in solutions that get at the "how" of implementation. It's not enough to know that a problem exists, nor is it enough simply to be told what to do to fix it. Clinical teams need guidance on how to implement and sustain best practices. By translating evidence into programs and materials that clinicians use at the point of care and working with these front-line professionals, we’re connecting the dots between research and practice.
Everyone has a stake in ensuring that antibiotics are used appropriately. How can you join us in this effort?
- Use our funding. Apply for grants to advance our knowledge of how to combat antibiotic resistance and prevent HAIs. See PA-16-423 and PA-16-422 on CARB research and PA-17-008 and PA-17-007 on HAI prevention research.
- Use our resources. Use AHRQ tools such as the Nursing Home Antimicrobial Stewardship Guide, the Toolkit for Reduction of Clostridium difficile Infections Through Antimicrobial Stewardship, and CUSP. These can help you improve antibiotic use as well as reduce HAIs in the first place, which lessens the need for antibiotics and the risk of resistance.
- Participate. Sign up for the new AHRQ Safety Program for Improving Antibiotic Use, an ongoing nationwide implementation project that aims to help providers use the CUSP method to improve the use of antibiotics and reduce antibiotic resistance. Our acute care hospital cohort will begin next month—recruitment for this cohort closes on November 17—and future cohorts will cover nursing homes and the ambulatory care setting.
We know that every infection prevented is one less episode of antibiotic use, which lowers the risk of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic Awareness Week is a perfect time to recommit to safeguarding the effectiveness of antibiotics by reducing the need for them and, when they are needed, using them appropriately. Join us as we work to protect the effectiveness of these medications and ensure they remain viable for the next generation.
Dr. Cleeman is Director of AHRQ's Healthcare-Associated Infections Program in the Agency's Center for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety.
Page originally created November 2017