Houston Health Department

Houston Health Department addressing increase of superbugs through antibiotic stewardship


Nov. 18, 2019

HOUSTON — The Houston Health Department is expanding its efforts to address antibiotic resistance, one of the most urgent threats to the public’s health. Antibiotic resistance happens when the overuse and misuse of antibiotics lead bacteria to develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them.

The health department’s Healthcare Associated Infections Program now includes long term care facilities such as retirement homes and rehabilitation centers. The program works with healthcare providers and pharmacists to enhance infection control and antibiotic stewardship.

“When used properly, antibiotics save lives,” said Dr. David Persse, local health authority for the Houston Health Department. “However, the overuse and misuse of antibiotics is leading to increases in superbug bacteria, leaving few options when treatment is needed for infections.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 47 million antibiotic prescriptions in U.S. outpatient settings are prescribed unnecessarily. CDC reports that each year in the United States, at least 2.8 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 35,000 people die as a direct result. Many more die from complications from antibiotic-resistant infections.

In addition to efforts in healthcare settings, the department also works to educate patients and the community about proper use of antibiotics, especially during U.S. National Antibiotic Awareness Week, Nov. 18-24, 2019.

The health department encourages patients and families to be antibiotics aware by knowing: 

  • Vaccination protects us against infections, reducing the need for antibiotics which helps limit antibiotic resistance.
  • The future of antibiotics depends on all of us. Good hand hygiene prevents infections from spreading.
  • Antibiotics do not work on viruses, such as those that cause colds, flu, bronchitis, or runny noses, even if the mucus is thick, yellow, or green.
  • Antibiotics are only needed for treating infections caused by bacteria, but even some bacterial infections get better without antibiotics, including many sinus infections and some ear infections.
  • Antibiotics will not make you feel better if you have a virus. Respiratory viruses usually go away in a week or two without treatment. Ask your healthcare professional about the best way to feel better while your body fights off the virus.
  • If you need antibiotics, take them exactly as prescribed. Talk with your doctor if you have any questions about your antibiotics, or if you develop any side effects, especially diarrhea, since that could be a Clostridioides difficile infection (also called C. difficile or C. diff), which needs to be treated.
  • Antibiotics are critical tools for treating life-threatening conditions but can cause side effects and lead to antibiotic resistance.

“Improving the way healthcare professionals prescribe antibiotics, and the way we take antibiotics, helps ensure these life-saving drugs will be available for future generations,” said Dr. Persse.

More information about the proper use of antibiotics and the health department’s stewardship activities is available at HoustonHealth.org.