Antibiotic-resistant pathogens are becoming more widespread in the United States. New research reported in eLife by a team at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has determined that many people who occasionally use antibiotics are having a more significant contribution to the problem than a small group of individuals who repeatedly use antibiotics.
“We know that efforts to reduce inappropriate use of antibiotics are critical to addressing the problem of antibiotic resistance. We wondered whether every antibiotic prescription contributes equally to resistance, and whether, as some previous research has suggested, the most effective way to minimize antibiotic resistance would be to focus on the small fraction of people who use most of the antibiotics,” explained Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and senior author of the study. “Our results show that most antibiotic use is occasional—by people taking just one antibiotic course in a year—and that this occasional use is more closely linked with antibiotic resistance than intense, repeated use.”
Antibiotic resistance is a growing threat to public health. Common infectious diseases like tuberculosis and gonorrhea are becoming more difficult to treat.
“Our findings suggest that combating inappropriate antibiotic use among people who don’t take many antibiotics may be just as important, or more important, to fighting resistance than focusing on high-intensity users,” added lead author Scott Olesen, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “More antibiotic use generally means more antibiotic resistance, but it seems like the number of people taking antibiotics might matter more than the amount they’re taking.”