Multiple “superbug” threats in the US. What to know?

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By the time the threat of the COVID-19 virus fades in 2023, another pathogen will take its place: bacteria that are resistant to most, if not all, antibiotics and antifungals.

In the first three months of 2023, public health officials reported four new health advisory alerts from bacteria and fungi called “superbugs” because of their resistance to drugs. They include: Neisseria gonorrhoea (causes sexually transmitted gonorrhea), Candida auris (a fungus that can cause bloodstream infections) Shigella (causes severe diarrhea) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (causes pneumonia and eye infections).

The threat of superbugs has been has been bubbling for decades like pharmaceutical companies failed to create a new drugs fight against germs that naturally develop resistance over time. The risk, especially for those who are immunocompromised, is heightened because the pandemic is likely to have accelerated the development of new resistant pathogens. partially conditioned the overprescribing of antibiotics and the use of ventilators and catheters in hospitalized patients with COVID-19.

The rapid rise of resistant bugs like C. auris is “disturbing,” says Harry Skinner, executive director of the AMR Action Fund. wrote in STAT, especially because “the US and the world continue to fail to take action against this threat.”

Valerie Gigante, Ph.D., team leader in the Antimicrobial Resistance Division at the World Health Organization, added: “Time is running out for us to bring new antibiotics to market and fight this urgent threat to public health. Without immediate action, we risk returning to the antibiotic era, where common infections turn deadly.”

In late 2022, the US Congress came close but failed to pass legislation, called the Pasteur Act, which would create an incentive for pharmaceutical companies to develop new antimicrobials. The aim of the measure is to create a guaranteed market for new antibiotics, which pharmaceutical companies believe is necessary for them to invest in research and development of new drugs. (Because new antibiotics must be used sparingly, the market is considered too small for the significant cost of research and development involved in developing new antimicrobials.) The current state of political dysfunction means there is little chance that anything will pass in Congress in 2023.

Health journalists can shed light on the need for policy change reporting on efforts at local hospitals, long-term care facilities, and research facilities to control and combat these microbes. One way to find local stories is to look at the CDC investment map showing which institutions are actively working with public health officials to curb antibiotic resistance.

Another story idea. lean on current pop culture interest in antimicrobial-resistant fungi related to the streaming show “The Last of Us.” The HBO series is based on a video game about a deadly fungus called cordyceps that turns most of the world’s people into zombies. While the fungus in the TV show only infects insects and poses no threat to humans, there are 19 other resistant fungi that are a potential threat to humans, according to the WHO. Several pharmaceutical companies are developing new drugs to fight them, but whether they would come to market without financial incentives is unclear. (See: this Scientific American story about why The Last of Us mushrooms aren’t a concern, but others are.)

Check out my AHCJ for more story ideas and resources reminder sheet for reporting antibiotic resistance.

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