WASHINGTON, D.C. - Do we need even more dangerous stuff in vials at government labs?
We do if we don’t want to return to an era when an infection often meant death, one of the nation’s top docs says.
Lately, there have been lapses in how government researchers have handled some dangerous stocks of classic pathogens, but the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week he’d like to start stockpiling another nasty batch of germs – those that have morphed to shrug off antibiotics.
Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, had to temporarily shut down two of its research labs recently after it was discovered that workers might have been exposed to anthrax samples and a cross-contaminated strain of bird flu due to slip ups in handling the material.
In a speech to journalists in Washington earlier this week, Frieden focused on antibiotic resistance, saying the drugs we’ve used to counter most infectious diseases for seven decades are losing their punch, and that the government needs to start stockpiling them to get an edge on bringing out smarter antibiotics.
He’d like to set up a program at the CDC to collect drug-resistant bacterial strains in order to help drug companies develop new antibiotics. The agency also is launching a new system that lets hospitals track what antibiotics they’re using and what resistant strains they’re up against to target better treatment.
Given recent events, it might seem like an awkward time for the CDC boss to suggest banking even more nasty microbes in its labs, but he says with every day of delay, “it becomes harder and more expensive to fix this problem.”
Already, some 2 million Americans develop drug-resistant infections each year, mostly during hospital stays, and an estimated 23,000 die. Resistance costs the health care system more than $20 billion a year.
“We talk about the pre-antibiotic era and the antibiotic era; if we’re not careful we will soon been in the post-antibiotic era,’’ said Frieden, who is an infectious disease specialist. And, said, "we are already there" for some patients.
Researchers know microbes use a variety of tricks to evade drugs, but also that the problem is made worse because doctors throw too many pills at patients who are sick with things antibiotics won’t cure. At least a third of the antibiotics prescribed in the United States are not needed or are the wrong type, CDC says.