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December 12, 2001

New Report Details Those At Greatest Risk From Antibiotic Resistance
Seniors, Children, Medically Vulnerable Hardest Hit By Untreatable Infections

A new report, "When Wonder Drugs Don't Work: How Antibiotic Resistance Threatens Children, Seniors, and the Medically Vulnerable," released today by Environmental Defense, highlights the significant health risk posed by antibiotic resistant bacteria to seniors, children, and individuals with certain medical conditions.

"Cancer patients, premature babies, HIV/AIDS patients and seniors often depend on antibiotics for their very survival. But overuse of these drugs in health care and agriculture threatens their effectiveness. By some estimates, more than 70% of all antibiotics used in the U.S. are fed to healthy farm animals, to promote slightly faster growth and to prevent disease that would otherwise result from unsanitary conditions in factory farms," said Environmental Defense senior attorney Karen Florini. "Antibiotics are also overused in human medicine. Congress, the Food and Drug Administration, and doctors and patients must immediately commit to ending antibiotic overuse in both agriculture and medicine in order to keep these critically important drugs working."

"Antibiotics are life-saving wonder drugs, ranging from old familiars like penicillin to newer drugs like Cipro. Unfortunately, these drugs are losing their effectiveness as antibiotic resistance continues to worsen," said Dr. Tamar Barlam, director of the Antibiotic Resistance Project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest and co-author of the report with Florini and Katherine Shea, M.D., M.P.H. "How well we respond to this crisis will affect lives, especially seniors, children, and the medically vulnerable," said Dr. Barlam, who is Board-certified in internal medicine and infectious disease.

Among the report's findings:

For physiological and lifestyle reasons, both children and seniors are more vulnerable to bacterial illness. In addition, many drugs are approved only for use in adults not children, and seniors have limited options because many antibiotics can't be used due to side effects or interactions with other drugs. As antibiotic resistance further limits the number of effective drugs, even fewer treatment options will exist for children and seniors suffering from bacterial illness.

Antibiotics have revolutionized treatment of cancer patients, transplant patients and other immunocompromised individuals, leading to dramatically higher survival rates and improved quality of life. If these drugs lose their effectiveness, the health impacts will be severe.

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Environmental Defense, a leading national nonprofit organization based in New York, represents more than 300,000 members. Since 1967 we have linked science, economics, and law to create innovative, equitable, and cost-effective solutions to the most urgent environmental problems.


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Most recent revision Wednesday, September 11, 2002