WASHINGTON – Maryland is one of a handful of states taking steps to track and combat the growing threat posed by drug-resistant bacteria, the state’s epidemiologist told a congressional subcommittee Thursday.
Dr. Diane Dwyer’s testimony came as the Senate Subcommittee on Public Health released a General Accounting Office report that found most states lack the systems to track the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria.
“We thought we’d conquered infectious diseases and we let down our guard,” the GAO’s Bernice Steinhardt told the subcommittee.
Officials said that after making great strides against bacteria over the past 50 years, the trend is being reversed by a growing number of drug-resistant bacteria. They said the “take a pill for every ill” mentality of many Americans is partly to blame.
Surgeon General David Satcher noted that U.S. doctors prescribe around 150 million doses of antibiotics a year but that the Centers for Disease Control estimate that one-third of those prescriptions are unnecessary.
“We took a good thing and we’re ruining it,” said Dr. Bernadette Albanese after the hearing. Albanese is the director of a CDC-funded pilot program in Baltimore that teaches doctors and patients the dangers of relying too heavily on antibiotics.
The “Use Antibiotics Wisely” program targets 1,100 pediatricians and family physicians and 600 medical practices in the Baltimore metropolitan area.
In its first year, the program conducted 250 doctor-training sessions and lectured at 12 area hospitals. Doctor reaction to the 18-month-old program has been mixed, Albanese said.
She said doctors are relieved that the state is addressing the problem, but they still feel trapped by patient demands for drugs and HMO pressures to squeeze in as many patients as possible.
“We had doctors screaming at us, `You have to talk to the parents,'” Albanese said.
So this year, the program has gone to 200 child-care providers and 175 PTA parents to tell them that “antibiotics are not necessary for every … snotty nose.”
Maryland is also one of eight states getting CDC funds to collect specimens of certain diseases statewide, Dwyer said.
The state is using the grant money in part to track five bacteria: group A and group B streptococcus, listeria, H influenza and neisseria meningitidis, the most common strain of bacterial meningitis.
Besides finding drug-resistant strains, another goal of the CDC program is to store specimens of those strains in case it becomes necessary to test them in the future.
Albanese and Satcher said the recent resurgence of streptococcus pneumonia focused attention on the over use and misuse of antibiotics.
More commonly called pneumococcus, the bacteria causes meningitis and ear infections in children, she said.
A decade ago, only 5 percent of pneumococcus cases were resistant to penicillin, said Albanese. Today, about 25 percent of such infections nationwide and 15 percent in Maryland are penicillin-resistant.
“In a microbial world, that’s a very short span of time,” she said of the emergence of drug-resistent pneumococcus.
“These little drug-resistant microbes are bioterrorists in their own right,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Baltimore and a member of the subcommittee. “They are like little bioterrorist nations.”