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The discovery of antimicrobials is one of the great advances in medicine, and their use has substantially reduced morbidity and mortality worldwide. Unfortunately, with widespread antibiotic use, we have witnessed the emergence of multidrug-resistant pathogens and reduced efficacy of many of our most powerful antimicrobials. In addition, we have also recognized many adverse effects of antimicrobials, most notably the rising rates of Clostridium difficile colitis. Further, the cost of medical care is greatly increased due to overuse of antibiotics and treating infections caused by resistant organisms. It is critical that health professionals understand the key concepts behind antimicrobial stewardship at the time they learn about microbial pathogens and antimicrobials.

The worldwide problem of antibiotic resistance makes the need for antimicrobial stewardship evident. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in the United States over 2 million infections with multidrug-resistant pathogens occur each year, leading to more than 20,000 deaths. These pathogens include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and extended-spectrum β-lactamase–producing gram-negative rods (e.g., Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae). Hospital-associated infections, many of which are caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, are estimated to cost billions of dollars each year.

The basic principles of good stewardship are threefold: (1) reduce inappropriate use of antibiotics, (2) encourage targeted treatment with narrow-spectrum drugs, and (3) limit adverse effects (Table 10–1). Inappropriate antibiotic use can occur for many reasons, including the providers’ desire to adhere to patient’s wishes, even when it is not medically appropriate. The most common example of inappropriate antibiotic use is the prescribing of antibiotics for a viral respiratory tract infection. It is estimated that half of all prescriptions given for upper respiratory infections (pharyngitis, sinusitis) are inappropriate.

Table 10–1Basic Principles of Antimicrobial Drug Stewardship

The concept of targeted treatment refers to making a microbiologic diagnosis promptly and using the most specific antibiotic that has the best safety profile for the patient. If multiple broad-spectrum antibiotics are used as empiric therapy early in infection, then switching ...

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