Florida Bill Would Combat Superbug Threat

March 28, 2014

A bill to track drug-resistant infections has been introduced in Florida, inspired in part by FRONTLINE’s Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Janet Adkins, a Republican, requires the state health department to maintain an online record of the type and location of any antibiotic-resistant bacteria outbreaks in Florida, and to take the lead in investigating those reports.

“When I saw the program it really highlighted to me just how important this issue is,” she told FRONTLINE. “Especially with Florida’s high population of elderly [people], I believe we are susceptible to outbreaks, and it’s important for the public to be aware of what’s happening so they can make informed decisions about their health care.”

In Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria, FRONTLINE reported on how little data there is available on antibiotic-resistant outbreaks. There’s no national reporting system. Hospitals and other health-care facilities aren’t required to report outbreaks when they happen — and most don’t, hoping to avoid alarming the public and hurting their bottom line.

“It is frankly embarrassing that we as a country do not know where resistance is occurring, how bad the problem is for various organisms or who’s using what antibiotics when,” said Dr. Brad Spellberg, an infectious disease doctor at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

Hospitals also tend to be incubators of drug-resistant bacteria, which can live in sink drains and on medical equipment, or pass from health-care providers to patients through unwashed hands. Outbreaks can happen even at the best facilities.

Adkins said she was struck in particular by the film’s report on an outbreak of KPC, a highly drug-resistant bug at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md., where doctors struggled to contain the bacteria or even determine how it was spreading through the hospital.

“That highlighted the need for additional research and tracking, and quite frankly, notification to affected individuals and those who were in close proximity,” she said. With more information, seniors in particular can make better choices about scheduling elective surgeries, such as hip replacements, she said, when they would be more vulnerable to infection.

Adkins’ bill, which was filed on March 21, would also establish a research panel of experts to recommend improvements for treating and controlling superbug outbreaks, and establish emergency protocols for responding when they occur.

A similar bill was introduced in the Florida senate earlier this month.

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