Many superbug deaths in US go uncounted: 4 things to know

As the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs continues to rise in the United States, many deaths caused by these infections are not being tracked, which may be inhibiting efforts to combat the rise of these deadly and costly infections, according to an investigative report from Reuters.

Here are four key takeaways from part one of the Reuters investigation:

1. The report relays several individual instances of patients' death certificates not accurately conveying the cause of death. In one such case, the death certificate of an infant infected with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus made no mention of the infection. Instead, the cause of death listed on the certificate was listed as "sepsis due to (or as a consequence of): Prematurity." The sepsis arose as a complication of MRSA.

2. Acknowledging hospital-acquired infections relating to superbugs can result in costly legal liability, loss of reimbursements and detrimental impacts to public relations, meaning hospitals may not report them accurately, according to Reuters. Also, the report found some physicians and clinicians may not fully understand the importance of specifically citing infections like MRSA in official documentation, so they fail to do so.

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3. At the state level, accurately tallying drug-resistant infections is difficult due to lax legal requirements regarding documentation. Just 17 states require notification of Clostridium difficile infections and only 26 states and Washington, D.C., require notifications for MRSA, for example.

4. Even when properly recorded, thousands of nonfatal infections and deaths related to drug-resistant bacteria go uncounted because federal agencies lack the political and financial capabilities necessary to conduct rigorous surveillance. While the numbers gathered by the CDC are regularly cited in news reports and scholarly articles, Reuters found the agency's estimates to be based on underreported deaths from drug-resistant infections.

Michael Craig, the CDC's senior adviser for antibiotic resistance coordination and strategy, told Reuters pressure on the agency from the media and Congress to produce the "big number" resulted in the agency putting forth "an impressionist painting rather than something that is much more technical."

The CDC estimates approximately 23,000 people die annually from 17 different types of antibiotic-resistant infections. Additionally, the agency also estimates 15,000 die each year from C. diff. According to Reuters, the actual numbers could be much higher.

To read all of part one of the Reuters investigative report, click here.

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