It's a problem causing 23,000 deaths a year. Doctors say there are infections out there that can no longer be cured by the antibiotics we have to treat them.
The term for this scary reality is antibiotic resistance. It's not only causing deaths, but it's also costing the healthcare system and patients a lot of money. The CDC is calling on hospitals and physicians to do something, and Oklahoma is responding.
"It's a serious problem. It's a worldwide problem, and there's not going to be any simple, easy answer for it," said Mercy infectious disease specialist Dr. John Harkess.
The CDC estimates in the United States, more than 2-million people get sick every year with antibiotic resistant infections. Doctors say there aren't many treatment options left and it reduces the chance patients might survive otherwise survivable illnesses.
Over the years our bodies have developed bacteria that are no longer killed by antibiotics, and they have spread. Bacterial infections like c-diff, gonorrhea, CRE and pneumonia are becoming deadly. It may sound like a problem out of our control, but the truth is it's not.
"We use too many antibiotics for treating people who have infections that are by and large mostly viral," said Dr. Harkess.
In a 2013 report by the CDC, researchers said the over prescribing of antibiotics is the number one reason we're in this position.
"It's much easier and takes much less time to prescribe an antibiotic than it does to explain why someone doesn't need one," said Dr. Karen Kinney, the medical director for the Oklahoma City County Health Department.
When children are sick, parents want doctors to prescribe something. Doctors, wanting to make patients happy, often give in. That's something doctors across the country are making a big effort to try not to do.
According to the CDC report, for every thousand people in Oklahoma, about 75% are prescribed an antibiotic within the course of a year. Dr. Kinney says that number is astounding and unacceptable. Now doctors around our state are committing to decreasing that number.
"You just explain that this is probably a viral infection. Antibiotics do not change the course of the viral infection and antibiotics have potential risks," said Dr. Harkess.
Hospitals like OU Medical Center and Mercy are already participating in antibiotic stewardship programs where nurses and doctors monitor the use of antibiotics and strive to use them in the right way. They're also helping the CDC track where the resistant bacteria are.
The CDC says antibiotic resistance costs the United States $20-billion a year in excess healthcare costs, and another $35-billion in lost productivity. The organization hopes if deaths aren't motivation enough to do something, maybe money will be.