Antibiotic resistance is a major problem worldwide and in the United States, but new research suggests it's a bigger problem in certain regions.
A new "ResistanceMap" from the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP) shows major disparities in antibiotic prescription rates and growing resistance to once-treatable diseases like urinary tract infections. The research was also partly funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Researchers at the center reviewed data collected between 1999 and 2010 and found overall antibiotic use has dropped about 17 percent. But for residents of the Appalachian and Gulf Coast states use is the highest in the country, where residents take about twice as many antibiotics on average per capita as people who live in Western states.
In 2010, the five states with the highest rates of antibiotic use in the U.S. were Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana. The five states with the lowest antibiotic use were Alaska, Hawaii, California, Oregon and Washington.
Other Western and New England states also showed lower-than-average use.
"While nationally, people are starting to use antibiotics more judiciously, the new findings also show the message might not be reaching everyone," Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the center's Extending the Cure program, said in a press release. "People continue to consume antibiotics at much higher rates in certain parts of the country, and the problem appears to be getting worse."
The higher rates in some region may be explained by consumer culture, where patients expect antibiotics when they're sick with cold and flu and doctors are willing to prescribe then when they might not be necessary.
This comes during the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "Get Smart About Antibiotics Week 2012," which encourages patients to ask their doctors what treatment works best rather than demand antibiotics. The CDC's awareness week also calls on doctors and health care administrators to find ways to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use.
The researchers also cite an alarming 30 percent rise in the overall share of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that causes urinary tract infections between 1999 and 2010.
Urinary tract infections account for about 8.6 million doctor visits each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and more than half of U.S. women will get a UTI in their lifetime. Currently there are five drugs used to treat the infections, but the rise in resistant-bacteria suggests they may be losing effectiveness.
"Without proper antibiotic treatment, UTIs can turn into bloodstream infections, which are much more serious and can be life-threatening," said Laxminarayan. "These findings are especially disturbing because there are few new antibiotics to replace the ones that are becoming less effective."
Not all the findings were bleak. CDDEP said doctors are better treating skin infections and there are fewer cases of drug-resistant methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections than in the mid 2000s. Use of fluoroquinolones, a class of antibiotics used to treat respisratory infection like pneumonia - fell by 24 percent from 2007 to 2010.
CDDEP has more information in an infographic on the findings.