Our Growing Resistance to Antibiotics

The development of antibiotics in the 20th century was revolutionary. For the first time in history, we were equipped to combat previously incurable infectious diseases such as strep throat and tuberculosis, and the mortality rates associated with those diseases declined markedly. Widespread exposure in the current age, however, threatens to undo this incredible progress as more strains of bacteria become resistant to even our most powerful antibiotics.

The CDC classifies antibiotic-resistant bacteria — or “superbugs” — as one of the most “pressing health threats to face the world today.”1 This is because the more we are exposed to antibiotics, the more resistant our bodies become to their treatment.

Resistance in the U.S.2

2 million people become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year.

23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections.

18 antibiotic-resistant organisms are classified by the CDC as “urgent,” serious,” or “concerning” threats.

Stopping the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria starts with taking a look at how we are exposed to antibiotics — both directly and indirectly — and considering how we can limit that exposure.

Direct Exposure

When people take antibiotics that aren’t necessary — such as when they have a virus — they kill off good bacteria and promote the evolution of bad bacteria that may not respond to antibiotics.

154 million prescriptions for antibiotics are written in doctor’s offices and emergency departments each year.

$10.7 billion was spent on antibiotics in 2009.3

Eliminating misuse can cut down exposure.

30% of antibiotics prescribed in the United States are unnecessary.4

70% of people receive antibiotics for a sore throat; only 15-20% need them.5

50%of antibiotics written to treat patients with acute respiratory conditions are unnecessary.

Indirect Exposure

When food-producing animals — particularly livestock — are treated with antibiotics, they can develop drug-resistant bacteria that can be transferred to humans.

30 million pounds of antibiotics are used to promote growth and control disease in livestock.

70%-80% of all antibiotics nationwide are used on livestock. 6,7

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria spreads from livestock to people via: 8,9

  • Animal food products that are cooked or prepared improperly.
  • Direct interaction with livestock that has developed drug-resistant bacteria.
  • Waste runoff and fecal matter that can remain on crops grown using fertilizer, soil or water exposed to antibiotics.


Please note that this graphic is for informational purposes only. Individuals should consult their health care professionals before following any of the information provided. Nursing@Georgetown does not endorse any organizations or websites contained in this graphic.

1 “Antibiotic Resistance Solutions Initiative,” CDC, March 25, 2016. Accessed June 1, 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/solutions-initiative/index.html
2 “Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States,” CDC, April 23, 2013. Accessed June 1, 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/threat-report-2013/pdf/ar-threats-2013-508.pdf
3 “Facts about Antibiotic Resistance,” CDC, April 17, 2015. Accessed June 1, 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/community/about/fast-facts.html
4 “Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States,” CDC, April 23, 2013. Accessed June 1, 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/threat-report-2013/pdf/ar-threats-2013-508.pdf
5 “Bad Sore Throat? It’s Probably Not Strep, Most Likely Viral,” Infectious Disease Society of America, Sept. 10, 2012. Accessed June 1, 2016. http://www.idsociety.org/2012_Strep_Throat_Guideline
6“Drug Use Review”, FDA, June 26, 2012. Accessed June 1, 2016. http://www.fda.gov/downloads/AdvisoryCommittees/CommitteesMeetingMaterials/PediatricAdvisoryCommittee/UCM342259.pdf
7 “Summary Report on Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food-Producing Animals,” FDA, April 10, 2015. Accessed June 1, 2016. http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/NewsEvents/CVMUpdates/ucm440585.htm
8 “Microbiological Effects of Sublethal Levels of Antibiotics,” Nature Reviews Microbiology, 2014. Accessed June 1, 2016. http://www.nature.com/nrmicro/journal/v12/n7/fig_tab/nrmicro3270_F1.html
9 ”Antibiotics in Groundwater Affect Natural Bacteria,” USGS, 2011. Accessed June 1, 2016. http://toxics.usgs.gov/highlights/antibiotics_gw/