Next global health crisis may lurk in antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Researchers consider human, animal and environmental factors to identify dangerous bacteria and prevent life-threatening infections

(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – Bacterial infections that would normally be treated with antibiotics are becoming more resistant to these medications every day. Researchers worry this could lead to the next global health threat as bacteria mutate and evolve faster than new treatments can be developed. Part of the problem is that antibiotics are overprescribed for illnesses that they’re ineffective in treating, like a cold or bronchitis.

“The more you show your cards to the bacteria, the easier it is for them to have practice figuring out how to get around that drug,” said Erica Reed, a specialty practice pharmacist in infectious diseases at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “We are already seeing life-threatening infections in patients that we have very few effective drugs left to treat.”

These antibiotic-resistant bacteria can spread quickly in many ways. They can be shared between people and animals or flow down waterways to livestock that then infect the food supply. That’s why the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Ohio State is approaching the problem from a “one health” perspective with the understanding that human, animal and environmental health are all intertwined.

“Whether it’s in the rivers, the wastewater treatment plant, the veterinary clinic or the medical center, all play a role in the problem and all have potential contributions to the solution,” said Thomas Wittum, chair of the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine. “By looking at the larger picture, we can identify the most effective and appropriate solutions and the best places to intervene.” 

The program not only connects experts from the Wexner Medical Center and the College of Veterinary Medicine, but also researchers in public health, microbiology, food agriculture, pharmacy and environmental sciences. New types of bacteria are being identified through animal and water sample cultures grown in the lab, bacterial infections are tracked in patients to identify threats and education on responsible prescribing practices are offered to providers to ensure the right drug is prescribed at the right dose for appropriate duration. 

“It’s easy for us just to focus on our own areas of research and our own interests and try to answer questions in that way,” Wittum said. “But we’ll have a much bigger impact by bringing diverse areas of expertise together to find solutions to the problem.” 

Since the inception of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine’s antimicrobial stewardship program in 2018, researchers have made important discoveries about how microorganisms that, after becoming tolerant to specific disinfectants, would automatically become resistant to a wide range of antibiotics. As a result, new disinfecting practices have been put into place everywhere from hospitals to pig farms all over the world. It’s this sharing of information that will help solve this global issue and prevent dangerous infections in the future.

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The Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Ohio State aims to prevent the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria by ensuring providers only prescribe antibiotics when they’re truly needed.

Water samples are tested in a lab at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can easily spread between the environment, animals and humans and researchers are approaching the issue from all of these angles to prevent a global threat to public health.

The Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Ohio State ensures antibiotics are prescribed appropriately. Overuse of antibiotics contributes to the development of drug-resistant bacteria, which pose a major threat to public health.

Samples are collected from an exam room at The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center. The samples will be tested in a lab for antibiotic-resistant bacteria that could pose new threats to animals and people.

Cultures from water samples are grown in a lab at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. It’s part of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program to help identify new bacteria from animals, humans and the environment that have become resistant to antibiotics.



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