Stop Spread of Unusual Antimicrobial Resistance

Originally Posted as a CDC Feature on: April 2018

Scientists working in lab

CDC empowers states to combat the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance—when germs develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. Identifying unusual resistance and taking early and aggressive action can keep germs from spreading.

Antimicrobial resistance (AR) is harder to control once it spreads and becomes common. A recent CDC report highlighted the importance of containing the spread of “unusual” AR and includes data from CDC’s Antimicrobial Resistance Lab Network (AR Lab Network), a new resource that can help identify these threats rapidly.

Antimicrobial-resistant germs can spread like wildfire. Each year in the U.S., at least 2 million people get an infection caused by antimicrobial-resistant bacteria or fungi and at least 23,000 people die. You likely know someone who has had a tough-to-treat infection.

Through CDC’s AR Lab Network, labs nationwide uncovered 221 instances of unusual resistance genes in “nightmare bacteria” in 2017.

Some types of AR are already widespread but, when found early, unusual types of resistance can be easier to contain. Unusual resistance germs are resistant to all or most antibiotics tested and are uncommon or carry special resistance genes.

Early and aggressive action can keep germs with unusual resistance from spreading in healthcare facilities, known as the Containment Strategy. CDC estimates show that even if only 20% effective, this approach can reduce the number of cases of “nightmare bacteria” carbapenem-resistant Enterobacterales (CRE) by 76% over three years (in one area).

This approach is not new; it complements other effective CDC strategies to combat AR, like improving antibiotic and antifungal use and preventing healthcare-associated infections. What is new is CDC’s AR Lab Network, established in 2016 to support nationwide lab capacity that rapidly detects AR in healthcare, food, and the community, and informs local responses to prevent spread.

According to the CDC report, the nationwide testing uncovered nearly 221 instances of germs with unusual resistance genes in “nightmare bacteria,” like CRE, in the U.S. (January-September, 2017). CDC supports more than 500 local staff across the country to combat antimicrobial resistance to detect, respond, and prevent cases just like these. Every state is now better able to keep new threats from becoming common.

Germs constantly develop resistance against new and older antibiotics and antifungals. More than 23,000 Americans die each year from antimicrobial-resistant infections. Early, aggressive actions can keep unusual resistance threats from spreading.

And you can take action, too!

  • Tell your health care provider if you recently received health care in another country or facility.
  • Talk to your health care provider about preventing infections, taking care of chronic conditions, and getting recommended vaccines.
  • Practice good hygiene, such as keeping hands clean, and keep cuts clean until healed.

The AR Lab Network complements additional prevention and response investments to combat AR, collectively known as CDC’s AR Solutions Initiative. CDC’s AR Solutions Initiative invests in the nation to defend against AR by supporting national infrastructure to detect, respond, contain, and prevent resistant infections across healthcare settings, food, and communities.