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Why overuse of antibiotics is a massive, ‘staggering’ problem in health care

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that we are losing ground in the battle against so-called superbugs — the harmful or deadly bacteria resistant to nearly all our antibiotic defenses. William Brangham talks to Dr. Arjun Srinivasan, who works on infection control at the CDC and helped compile the report, about how we can prevent these dangerous infections.

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Judy Woodruff:

A new report out from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control highlights that we are still losing the battle against so-called superbugs, bacteria that are resistant to nearly all the antibiotics.

As William Brangham tells us, the scope of the problem is bigger than previously estimated.

William Brangham:

The CDC’s new report shows that, while overall deaths from these superbugs are decreasing, new infections are rising. Federal health officials say it shows how far we still have to go.

These superbugs exist largely because of the overuse and misuse of antibiotics, which allows the targeted bacteria to develop defenses against them, which makes those lifesaving drugs less and less effective.

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According to the CDC, about 35,000 people die every year from these infections. The majority of these deaths are from people getting infected in hospitals and other health care settings. More than 2.8 million new infections occur every year. That’s about one new infection every 11 seconds.

For more on all this, I’m joined now by Arjun Srinivasan, who works on infection control at the CDC and helped put together this report.

Dr. Srinivasan, thank you very much for being here.

Before we get into some of the granular details of this report, I wonder if we could talk about the broader scope of this problem. I mean, I think, by any public health measure, almost three million infections every year is a lot of infections.

Dr. Arjun Srinivasan:

Yes.

And thanks for having me, William.

It is. It’s a huge number. It’s a staggering burden. And that burden is really why we have been calling attention to this problem for several years.

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