The bacteria responsible for common urinary tract infections are becoming increasingly harder to treat with current antibiotics because the microbes that cause them are developing resistance to most drugs, health experts say.
UTIs are the second-most-common infections in the United States, and a new online tool developed to track antibiotic use and resistance in the U.S. has found they are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics.
The warning comes from new research from Extending the Cure (ETC) — a project of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy — that has produced an online ResistanceMap that monitors treatment trends nationwide.
According to the ETC researchers, the map shows the available arsenal of drugs used to treat UTIs are losing their overall effectiveness, with the percentage of resistant bacteria growing by over 30 percent between 1999 and 2010. There are currently about five drug classes used to treat UTIs, said the researchers, whose work is funded, in part, by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
UTIs account for about 8.6 million visits to healthcare providers each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half of U.S. women will get a UTI in their lifetime.
"Without proper antibiotic treatment, UTIs can turn into bloodstream infections, which are much more serious and can be life-threatening," said Ramanan Laxminarayan, ETC director. "These findings are especially disturbing because there are few new antibiotics to replace the ones that are becoming less effective. New drug development needs to target the types of drug-resistant bacteria that cause these infections."
The researchers found the highest levels of antibiotic overuse in the Southeastern region of the U.S. between 1999 and 2010. Unnecessary use makes antibiotics less effective and promotes resistance.
Among the researchers’ findings:
• Rates of antibiotic resistance for UTIs highest in the Southeast, specifically in the East South Central and South Atlantic states. States in New England and the Pacific regions of the country had lower levels of resistance.
• Since 1999, the percentage of antibiotic prescriptions filled nationwide has dropped by 17 percent, but in some regions of the country — notably Appalachian and Gulf Coast states — still have high antibiotic use, with residents taking twice as many per capita as those in the West.
• The five states with the highest rates of antibiotic use are Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
• The five states with the lowest antibiotic use are Alaska, Hawaii, California, Oregon, and Washington. Other Western and New England states also showed lower-than-average use.
"While nationally, people are starting to use antibiotics more judiciously, the new findings also show the message might not be reaching everyone,” said Laxminarayan. "People continue to consume antibiotics at much higher rates in certain parts of the country, and the problem appears to be getting worse."