Space & Innovation

New CDC Online Tool Tracks Superbugs

Interactive maps follow the growth of drug-resistant foodborne bacteria. Continue reading →

One of the nice aspects of 21st-century life is that there are so many new, exciting and interactive ways to freak directly out.

This week's example comes courtesy of researchers at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), who have released an interactive online tool that lets users track the threat of drug-resistant foodborne bacteria.

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Specifically, the tool tracks instances of drug-resistant food poisoning bugs that have been reported over the last 20 years. These are those delightful little bacteria with squirm-inducing names like Salmonella, E. coli and - my personal favorite - Shigella, which sounds like an H.P. Lovecraft monstrosity.

The bugs are little horror stories themselves. The CDC estimates that each year in the United States, infectious foodborne diseases cause 1 in 6 Americans to get sick. That's 48 million people, with 128,000 hospitalizations and upwards of 3,000 deaths annually.

The idea behind the CDC project - part of the larger National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) - is to educate the public on just how widespread and dangerous these new strains of drug-resistant bacteria have become. The refrain is familiar: Overuse of wide-spectrum antibiotics has resulted in hardy superbugs that can't be treated with the usual quick prescription.

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The new suite of interactive tools features a map of the 50 states with a set of sliders for selecting individual bacteria, serotypes and the kinds of antibiotics to which the bugs have developed resistance. You can select your own state, for instance, and see with color-coded clarity what percentage of foodborne bacteria in your area has become drug-resistant over the years.

Here's one last graph for you to digest (heh) - the overall percentage of Salmonella Typhimurium bacteria that has grown resistant to the commonly deployed antibiotic nalidixic acid, from 1998 to 2014.

Freaky. If anyone needs me I'll be in the Discovery News HQ Decontamination Bunker.

via Centers for Disease Control

Color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph showing Salmonella Typhimurium (red) invading cultured human cells.

In Madagascar, about 500 people every year contract the plague.