White House unleashing five-year plan to fight superbugs; critics already finding weaknesses in approach

The White House on Friday will announce a new, five-year plan to curb the spread of antibiotic resistant microbes, Reuters reports – having reviewed a leaked copy of the 60-page document. However, scientists and lawmakers are already finding major flaws in the plan’s approach, Politico is saying. The plan, devised by a government task force led by top White House […]

The White House on Friday will announce a new, five-year plan to curb the spread of antibiotic resistant microbes, Reuters reports – having reviewed a leaked copy of the 60-page document. However, scientists and lawmakers are already finding major flaws in the plan’s approach, Politico is saying.

The plan, devised by a government task force led by top White House health, agriculture and defense officials, calls for enormous investment and policy change from a number of U.S. regulatory bodies, Reuters reports:

The goals include drastically reducing the rates of the most deadly “superbug” infections within five years, investing in new diagnostic tools and antibiotic drugs, improving antibiotic use, surveillance and prescribing practices in livestock and hospitals and increasing international collaboration through foreign ministries of health and the World Health Organization

The president has already doubled the funding for fighting antibiotic resistance to $1.2 billion. However Politico points out that some say the plan’s approach to livestock, in particular, is weak:

But critics were already dismissing the plan ahead of its planned release on Friday as too lenient on big farms giving drugs to animals – a major driver of antibiotic resistance — and doing little to spur the discovery of new germ-killing compounds.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D- N.Y.) remains unconvinced the administration’s approach has enough teeth to effectively tackle the problem. Goals set for 2020 in the president’s national action plan fall short and won’t move quickly enough, especially in areas of antibiotic use in food animal farming, which accounts for 75 percent of antibiotic use in America, Slaughter said.

“They’re about 10 years behind,” Slaughter said of the administration.

It’s not all negative, however.

“We’ve never seen something this sweeping and comprehensive,” Amanda Jezek, vice president for public policy and government relations at the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said in an interview with Reuters.

Here’s a rundown of what Reuters culled from the report:

  • The CDC will work to cut down rates of the most deadly and rampant infections – including reducing C. difficile rates by 50 percent, CRE by 60 percent and MRSA bloodstream infections by 50 percent.
  • Hospitals will be required to launch stronger infection control programs – which include better techniques of washing hands, hospital surfaces and equipment. Importantly, doctors will be tasked with lowering the rates of prescribing antibiotics to patients.
  • There will be heightened Medicare and Medicaid vigilance when doctors prescribe antibiotics – particularly when they’re doled out for non-bacterial infections like common colds.
  • The CDC will up its screening of new U.S. entrants who come fro, countries with high rates of multidrug resistant tuberculosis. Right now, the CDC screens 500,000 individuals – within five years, that rate is slated to double.
  • The plan calls for approving two new antibiotics and fund rapid diagnostics that will be able to quickly diagnose a patient’s bacterial or viral infection – which would improve prescription patterns.

The plan also suggests the FDA and Department of Agriculture takes further steps to reduce the usage of antibiotics in livestock – but Reuters says the report didn’t lay out a goal for this critical aspect of a superbug-fighting plan.

“President Obama gets an A for tackling this problem from multiple angles,” Sujatha Jahagirdar, program director at consumer group U.S. PIRG Stop Antibiotics Overuse, told Reuters. “But in terms of addressing the biggest problem, the troubling overuse and misuse of antibiotics on large factory farms, the administration gets an incomplete.”