CDC grossly underestimating superbug death toll, researchers find

Using a method different from the CDC's to estimate the burden of antibiotic-resistant infections, Seattle researchers found a significantly higher number of deaths from multidrug-resistant infections, according to CIDRAP News.

Their method, described in a letter published in November in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, analyzed the nearly 2.5 million inpatient and outpatient deaths that occurred in 2010.

To calculate the number of patients who were likely to have died from multidrug-resistant infections, the researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine used conservative estimates of deaths caused by sepsis and reported rates of multidrug resistance in U.S. hospitals, along with estimates of outpatient deaths caused by infections.

They found the low end of their estimate — at least 153,113 inpatient and outpatient deaths annually from multidrug-resistant infections — is almost seven times higher than the CDC's figure. For several years, the most frequently cited number put forward by the CDC has been 23,000 deaths a year. 

The researchers found their upper-end estimate of 162,044 deaths would make multidrug-resistant infections the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. Researcher Jason Burnham, MD, said he thinks even those numbers could be conservative.

The CDC will release a new estimate of illnesses and deaths caused by drug-resistant pathogens later this year, and CDC officials said the agency will have better data to work with and that the numbers in the new report are likely to be higher.

For these new estimates, researchers will be using EHR data, which will provide more information on where and when infections occurred.

"Our hope, with the EHR systems that we're using, is that we're actually going to have more cross-cutting, comprehensive data," said Michael Craig, a senior advisor on antibiotic resistance at the CDC. "We're also going to have data directly from clinical laboratories that are doing the resistance testing. So, especially for healthcare-associated pathogens, we're going to have a higher degree of consistency and methodology."

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