THURSDAY, Sept. 18, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- President Barack Obama escalated the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria on Thursday, ordering key federal agencies to pursue a national strategy to deal with the threat.
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Obama signed an executive order that creates a new cabinet-level task force charged with crafting a national action plan for dealing with new "superbugs" -- which are ordinary and previously treatable bacteria that have become resistant to standard antibiotics through repeated exposure to the drugs.
The president also called for better federal oversight of the use of antibiotics in health care, strengthened efforts aimed at tracking the superbugs, and the development of next-generation antibiotics that can overcome bacterial resistance.
Finally, the order announced a $20 million prize for the development of a rapid diagnostic test that doctors can use to identify highly resistant bacterial infections.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are associated with 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses in the United States each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These infections cost $20 billion annually in the United States, according to a news release from the Obama administration.
Dr. Jesse Goodman, director of the Center on Medical Product Access, Safety and Stewardship at Georgetown University Medical Center, called Obama's order a "great step forward," but cautioned that the fight will require a "sea change" in current thinking.
"Doctors, farmers and agribusiness, health systems and the public all need to think totally differently about antibiotics," Goodman said. "They are precious resources and we must reduce their inappropriate use. Better diagnosis and stronger infection control practices can make a big difference right now and safely reduce antibiotic use."
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SOURCES: Sept. 18, 2014, news release, The White House; Sept. 18, 2014, news release, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, D.C.