90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Friday, February 18, 2011

Researcher Says To Tackle Deadly Superbugs, Rethink Antibiotics

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) broths being removed from the incubator in the laboratory at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn, England. (AP)

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) broths being removed from the incubator in the laboratory at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn, England. (AP)

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more people die from MRSA than AIDS each year. MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staph infection, is a bacterial infection that’s resistant to some antibiotics. And the increased prevalence of MRSA and other drug-resistant bacteria has public health officials worried that soon antibiotics won’t work at all.

We speak with Kevin Outterson, associate professor of Law at Boston University.  He says that increased drug resistance is closely related to the way that we think about antibiotics: We overuse them, pharmaceutical companies over-market them, and they are too inexpensive.

Other stories from Friday's show
Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • John

    I would like Mr. Outterson to explain to me what, exactly, is “rational” in putting a business motive ahead of a CLEAR public health threat. I think perhaps the professor misspoke; maybe he meant to say, “sociopathic?” That sounds like a much more apt term to describe businesses who put their profit margin ahead of the well being of the entire population.

  • Melissa

    Mr. Outterson talks about the misuse and overuse of antibiotics at the doctor’s office and hospitals, but he doesn’t even mention the overuse of antibiotics in meat production. Animals are fed antibiotics on a daily basis! If we’re worried about running out of antibiotics or becoming immune to them, why aren’t we worrying about the antibiotics in our food?

    • Sylvia

      I entirely agree with your point. We have to address the routine use of antibiotics in our meat animals: why are they so necessary in the first place to raise industrial meat? The reason is the way they are raised (CAFOs) makes the animals sick, and they cannot survive without the antibiotics.

    • Kevin Outterson

      I’m worried about all areas where antibiotics are overused, including agricultural production, especially for non-therapeutic uses.

  • Susan M

    Beware C. Diff! Consider taking Culturelle, a probiotic available over the counter at CVS if you or a loved one are to be given antibiotics, especially in a hospital setting. Also, I’ve heard of the probiotic Florastor being given in a hospital setting. Speak up about this and you will hopefully avoid contracting Clostridium Difficile.

  • Eaglerocks

    I just went thru 3 courses of anti’s in a month for an infected dental implant and now I have Something Yeast Infection or worse.

    • KACalder

      Be sure to pile on the yogurt, a good brand with multiple live cultures. Acidophilus tablets or capsules, too, if you prefer them for the convenience. I don’t know why doctors don’t routinely recommend these for yeast control anytime they prescribe antibiotics — they by all means ought to.

  • Valdaquende

    An issue that should not be neglected (and which ought to be explored in any article on this topic) is the Third Wave of super-bug creation – the use of ‘anti-microbial’ soaps.

    Doctors have warned us for almost 30 years that the overuse of anti-biotics would (not ‘could’, but ‘would’) lead to the evolution of strains that would resist antibiotic treatment. Now they are, quite properly, warning us that the use of anti-microbial soaps will take that trend to a whole new level, leading to the evolution of resistant strains of almost every kind of germ and microbe that comes into contact with the human hand.

    The campaign of soap-sellers to prey on our fears and insecurities will (as the overuse of antibiotics already has done) take us to the very place that science is warning us against.

  • Barry

    Relevant to this interesting story is a song from Damaged Care: The Musical Comedy about Health Care in America: “Another Outbreak of Us Superbugs” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EO0QVsGlBHc

  • Truckerman

    yes AB’s maybe overprescribed in certain circumstances–however, Dr’s are doing their pts NO FAVORS because they fail to recommend the use of PROBIOTICS for all pts on AB’s & start taking them immediately–CDif will most likely be avoided in most cases!! The DRs are contributing to the problems of SUPERINFECTIONS by depriving pts of needed info re: nutritional approaches to maintaining gut flora!! Shame on them!!

  • John Francis

    If Mr. Outterson is still reading this page… while listening to the interview, I thought of my son who has been seriously ill since last April (2010) with what the doctors try to explain as a virus-caused illness. ALL tests came up negative. All doctors have been clueless as to what caused his condition. He became a special study case at U of IL – Chicago Hospital until they ran out of possible theories. He remains on morphine, blood pressure meds, and other meds to control the pain and neuropathy. Now 28 he is still unable to return to any kind of ‘normal work’ – fitness trainer/body builder. Could this be related to MRSA? One thought is that he picked up a virus at a workout gym. Isn’t there something to cure his condition rather than ‘wait while the nervous system rebuilds itself’ and try to control the pain?
    I would deeply appreciate some help on this. U of IL hospital in Chicago, Northwestern U Hospital and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chicago have all been unable to identify a cause or determine a cure.
    Thank you,

    • Lisa

      MRSA is well known and easily identified as an infectious agent in any hospital. Because MRSA is a bacteria, other antibiotics can be used to fight the infection. However, it’s not easy to do. Viral illnesses cannot be treated with antibiotics.

      I hope for a good outcome for your son, and as a nurse can appreciate the frustration you are experiencing.

  • Robert B. Packer M.D.

    I believe Mr Outterson”s idea of increasing the cost of antibiotics is misguided. As a practicing physician with 39 years of experience I have frequently encountered patients who cannot afford their medication. Increasing the cost of antibiotics will not decrease their use. It will just punish the already financially strapped patient. Physicians need to be better educated about the appropriate use of antibiotics. I frequently see antibiotics prescribed for viral infections and cough of non infectious origin. Additionally many patients expect antibiotics and it takes time to explain their use is not indicated. I believe some physicians follow the path of least resistance and give in. I also believe some want to keep the patient satisfied and prescribe them for that reason.

    The cost of health care is already out of control. Increasing the cost of essential medications will make things worse.

    R. Packer. M.D.

    • Lisa, PhD, RN

      I do agree with you that education for those who prescribe antibiotics is helpful. I also think that the public needs to better understand the appropriate use of antibiotics to decrease the demand. This has thus far been a difficult and unsuccessful campaign. This leads to looking for environmental/policy level changes, such as increasing the cost, to attempt to lessen patient demand for antibiotics when there is no indication for them.

  • Makan2skata

    “Two-thirds of these diseases, (heart disease and diabetes) would be eliminated if we consumed a healthier diet and exercised more”.
    ~ Dr. Meir Stampfer M.D., Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition
    Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School

  • Lem

    Maybe the “capitalist system” would be better off to teach humans how to care for the body. The current Standard American Diet(S.A.D.) is the problem. American diets compared to those of many countries overseas is composed highly of processed, fragmented and chemicalized foods. The diet is basically a dead and stale regime of denatured foodstuffs.
    Add to that the high amounts of genetically modified organisms the public is exposed to. Americans are guinea pigs for Monsanto, ADM, Cargill and Big Pharma.
    Advocating prevention in this culture would be much more economical than treatment. Too many drugs.
    There is no money in healthy people. However there is big money in keeping them ill and allowing the modern medicine man to keep prescribing an endless array of toxic “legal drugs” from Big Pharma.
    The aim of the ruling elite is to keep the masses unhealthy, confused, sedated and frightened. The results are evident across the land.

    “And we have made of ourselves living cesspools, and
    driven doctors to invent names for our diseases.”

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

August 29 Comment

World Championship Tug-Of-War Is ‘A Thing Of Beauty’

This weekend's competition in Wisconsin is a bit more intense than it was in your grade school gym class.

August 29 Comment

Repelling Mosquitoes With A Natural Sticky Patch

The Kite Patch releases odors that block the bug's carbon dioxide receptors, sending them in another direction.

August 28 Comment

Catching Up With The Polyphonic Spree

The choral rock band out of Dallas, Texas, has been thrilling audiences with its live performances for over a decade.

August 28 5 Comments

‘Enormous’ Growth Of Ocean Garbage Patch

The oceanographer who discovered the floating island of trash in 1997 says he's shocked by how much it's grown.