drug resistance

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Mapping Antibiotic Resistance: Know The Germs In Your Neighborhood

By Dr. David Scales

You may have heard about Daniel Fells, the tight end on the New York Giants who almost lost his foot due to a drug-resistant infection. You’ve heard about drug resistant infections like Fells’ because dire reports about “the end of antibiotics” are all over, but maybe you want to know if resistant germs are common near you.

Unfortunately, you’re out of luck. While your hospital probably collects that data, they probably won’t share it with you.

John Brownstein, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, and his colleagues at Boston Children’s Hospital (the group responsible for HealthMap.org), are working to make these data more available. They are tracking resistant bacteria through an online map called ResistanceOpen. The goal is to shed light on how much resistant bacteria is in your area and which antibiotics those bacteria are resistant to. (Full disclosure: I did my post-doc with HealthMap, leaving in 2013.)

Other groups track drug-resistant bacteria — like ResistanceMap put out by the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, based in Washington, D.C. — but it’s never been done at such a local level. ResistanceOpen provides data and information on four of the most dangerous types of resistant bacteria, including MRSA, the infection that Fells caught in his foot.

A screenshot from ResistanceOpen (Courtesy)

A screenshot from ResistanceOpen (Courtesy)

It’s not yet so detailed where you can get data on your local hospital, but currently you can search for information on which drug-resistant bugs are circulating in a 25-mile radius from your location, or any other location you choose. The hope is that if people know which resistant germs are in their area, it’ll help draw attention to the issue. One day, ResistanceOpen hopes to map data at the hospital level.

“I feel like antimicrobial resistance should be treated with the same urgency that other communicable diseases are met with and I believe it has to start with transparency and awareness,” Dr. Derek MacFadden, a Canadian infectious disease doctor who worked on the project, told HealthMap’s Disease Daily. “ResistanceOpen provides the public with both.”

While some of the data for the map comes from news reports about resistant bacteria, Dr. MacFadden, who is also a doctoral student at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found much of the data for ResistanceOpen by scouring hospitals’ websites.

Hospitals routinely track antibiotic resistance on their wards and in their clinics. With that data they usually create a yearly “antibiogram” — a catalogue of bacteria found in patients treated at that hospital in the past year. Antibiograms help guide physicians at that hospital on how to treat patients by avoiding antibiotics that are unlikely to work. But antibiograms are not always public, so only the physicians (and patients) at that hospital benefit from the information. Continue reading