By Aimsan Samsan
(CNN) — Resistant strains of bacteria are a threat to everyone, but there may be a specific reason why those responsible for control efforts haven’t expanded their efforts, experts say.
It turns out, people living in the Americas are dealing with various strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. In the past two decades, C. difficile infections have risen 300%, and drug-resistant strains of MRSA have been responsible for 13,000 deaths in the United States each year.
Those infections have moved beyond hospitals and nursing homes, sometimes into people’s homes, according to a report released Monday from Public Health England.
“The situation on the ground in the Americas is not well understood, in many areas the approach to infection control has been too restricted to focus solely on the threat of antibiotic resistance,” the report said.
The U.K.-based public health institute analyzed the most common types of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in nine countries, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Chile and Venezuela.
Among those countries, Canada had the highest prevalence of drug-resistant bacteria, including streptococcus, Shigella, Klebsiella pneumonia and E. coli, according to the report.
The highest levels of antibiotic resistance were observed in North America, where a total of 7% of the bacterial strains examined were resistant to beta-lactam antibiotics. On the East Coast, 4% of the strains were resistant to beta-lactam antibiotics. The highest antibiotic resistance in the Caribbean was in Jamaica, at 6%.
In the Americas, Mexico and Colombia both had infection control levels of infections with drug-resistant bacteria of 4%, followed by the United States (3.2%) and Peru (2.4%). The Caribbean and Central America had infection control levels of 1% or lower for all the bacteria.
On average, compared with Europe, the Americas have a lower prevalence of infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but that’s because Europe has more than one population group that has to be focused on preventing and treating infections with these types of bacteria, Dr. Hywel Bennett, chair of the Infectious Diseases Division at the University of Kent in Britain, said.
“The current strategy in the Americas, on the other hand, looks at the issue of infectious disease mostly and for patients only,” Bennett told CNN. “This is a mistake, because the threat to the whole of society poses serious challenges to patient safety, to general practice and to public health in the Americas.”
So what does all this mean for people and countries?
First, Bennett wants U.S. and Canadian and Mexican government officials to improve the quality of surveillance in the regions.
He added, however, that when strategies are developed, they should focus on prevention and quality. That means providing a thorough and complete national surveillance plan that is suited to the Latin American and Caribbean region, he said.
“In some places, people don’t even know when a sick person comes in,” Bennett said. “In places like Venezuela, which has had repeated political problems, they have very few hospitals. … The right approach in such situations would be collaboration with universities and local health authorities in these countries, and to research, in some cases, the microorganisms that cause such infections.”
In the United States, one of the key areas where researchers can work is to improve the quality of surveillance, Bennett said.
“The most relevant research is need-based and appropriate, so the input of clinicians, the citizens and the medical community can influence the policy, but it is often too early in the research cycle for that to occur,” he said.
Bennett also hopes that the nations in the region will examine how those factors — such as political stability, political systems and populations — impact the availability of drugs and how people are treated.
Bennett said that public-health agencies could work with governments and corporations to train hospital staff and spread health information about appropriate antibiotic use and infection control.
“All of these things together will make people safer and more resilient,” he said.