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US Agency Urges Steps to Prevent Superbug Deaths

FILE - An employee displays a drug-resistant superbug inside a petri dish containing agar jelly for bacterial culture in a microbiological laboratory in Berlin, March 1, 2008.

An immediate, focused effort to halt the spread of antibiotic-resistant germs could save tens of thousands of lives and prevent hundreds of thousands of new infections over the next five years, according to a U.S. government report released Tuesday.

The report said as many as 37,000 lives could be saved, and 619,000 new infections prevented, if public health departments and health care facilities would find a way to quickly identify and address emerging outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Germs that no longer respond to antibiotics cause more than 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths each year in the United States, according to the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These bacteria typically arise when antibiotics are overprescribed.

Superbugs often spread in the hospital, especially among patients with weakened immune systems.

"Facilities that work alone cannot adequately protect their patients," CDC Director Tom Frieden said. "Tens of thousands of deaths can be prevented" with tighter coordination, he said.

Based on available research data, the CDC estimated that tighter coordination could slash infections with one superbug by as much as 80 percent in a given area over five years.