Antibiograms on the Rise

By Joel DeVyldere

New research supported by Oregon State University demonstrates the potentially life-saving power of antibiograms in skilled nursing facilities. The study, which appeared in the October edition of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, demonstrated the effectiveness of antibiograms as part of a process for selecting appropriate antibiotics.

Antibiograms are tools that help healthcare professionals determine how effective a particular antibiotic is when matched up with a specific disease-causing organism. Antibiograms enable medical professionals to test several antibiotics on a pathogen simultaneously to see which medications are the most effective. Through the appropriate selection of antibiotics, researchers hope to sidestep the pitfalls of antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance is an epidemiological problem that occurs when a disease-causing organism mutates to become impervious to previously effective antibiotic therapy. Resistance to multiple strains of antibiotics qualifies the organism as a superbug. This phenomenon tends to be more common in inpatient medical facilities, where nosocomial infections (hospital bugs) encounter a steady stream of patients with weakened immune systems.

Concerns about antibiotic-resistant diseases have taken center stage in recent months. In September, President Obama signed an executive order that launched a nationwide program to identify and combat antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

The World Health Organization issued a report this year that reported the trend of increased antibiotic resistance has “reached alarming levels.”

“A post-antibiotic era—in which common infections and minor injuries can kill—far from being an apocalyptic fantasy, is instead a very real possibility for the 21st century,” the WHO report reads.

Meanwhile, the OSU study found that antibiograms were used to select an antibiotic only 15 percent of the time in the skilled nursing facilities surveyed; 65 percent of the antibiotic prescriptions studied were found to be inappropriate. The study concluded that the widespread use of antibiograms could be a helpful tool for fighting a wave of new, highly adapted infections.

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