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Antibiotic resistance sparks call to action

“Antibiotic Resistant Organisms–A Call to Action!” is the theme of this year’s National Infection Control Week (Oct. 20-24).

Infection prevention and control programs have been widely-recognized to be both clinically effective and cost-effective in preventing and controlling the spread of infections in health care settings.

Since antibiotics first became available in the 1950s, they have been hailed as miracle drugs used to treat infections that previously would kill thousands of people every year. By the late 1960s, the medical community thought that infectious disease had been beat!

However, the common use and misuse of antibiotics has given bacteria the perfect chance to evolve to fight them off. Bacterial resistance has flourished—making some infections particularly hard to treat.

It’s estimated that 250,000 Canadians suffer from a health care-associated infection. Of these, 9,000-12,000 die annually. The CDC estimates that, each year, nearly two million people in the United States acquire an infection while in a hospital, resulting in 90,000 deaths.

More than 70 percent of the bacteria that cause these infections are resistant to at least one of the antibiotics commonly used to treat them. The most common misuse of antibiotics is to treat viral infections such as colds, sore throats, and other upper respiratory infections.

Antibiotics have no effect on viruses, but many people don’t understand this and may demand antibiotics from their doctors.

Other reasons cited by doctors for over-prescribing antibiotics include diagnostic uncertainty and time pressure on physicians.

Antibiotic resistance is on the rise in Canada and there now are some infections that antibiotics no longer can treat. Thankfully, these are still rare in Canada but we need to take action now.

Another concern to some health experts is the escalating use of antibacterial soaps, detergents, lotions, and other household items. There has never been evidence they have a public health benefit. Plain soap and water works—and there is no need for the more expensive products with small amounts of antibacterial agents in them.

These small amounts of antibacterials have been shown to lead to bacteria developing resistance.

There are standard principles for the use of antibiotics in Canada:

•Enhanced patient education on appropriate indications for antibiotic prescribing;

•Prudent use of antibiotics;

•Reinforcement of proper hand hygiene procedures;

•Promotion of appropriate vaccination to prevent infections in the first place;

•Improvement surveillance systems that can monitor the levels of antibiotic resistance of common bacteria;

•Advocacy of new drug development; and

•Promotion of research to determine current resistance trends and prescribing practices to determine how to best mitigate rising resistance incidence.

CHICA–Canada is a national, multi-disciplinary, voluntary association of Infection Prevention and Control Professionals (ICPs), with 20 chapters across the country dedicated to the health of Canadians by promoting excellence in the practice of infection prevention and control.

ICPs are involved in many activities, from collecting data on infections in hospitals to providing advice to prevent infections in your doctor’s office or in your child’s day care or school.

Visit CHICA-Canada’s website at for infection prevention and control information.

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