Antibiotic overuse is producing new drug-resistant strains of the second most common infection in the U.S., urinary tract infections. According to Extending the Cure (ETC), a division of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, the problem is particularly acute in the southeastern U.S., where doctors routinely over-prescribe antibiotics, leading to decreased effectiveness over time.

Using ETC’s tool, ResistanceMap, an interactive map of antibiotic use and effectiveness in the U.S., researchers were able to track infections between 1999 and 2010 and found that the overall effectiveness of the drugs prescribed to treat UTIs declined by 30 percent.

According to a news release from ETC, the highest rates of the new drug-resistant UTIs are in the Southeast, while rates are lowest in New England and the Pacific states.

More than 50 percent of U.S. women will get urinary tract infections in their lifetime, prompting 8.6 million visits to health care providers each year. The relatively minor annoyance can turn serious if left untreated.

"Without proper antibiotic treatment, UTIs can turn into bloodstream infections, which are much more serious and can be life-threatening," said ETC director Ramanan Laxminarayan. The new findings are particularly disturbing, he said, "because there are few new antibiotics to replace the ones that are becoming less effective. New drug development needs to target the types of drug-resistant bacteria that cause these infections."

UTIs are caused when E. coli or other enteric bacteria invades the urinary tract. According to the CDC website, symptoms range "from painful urination in uncomplicated urethritis or cystitis to severe systemic illness associated with abdominal or back pain, fever, sepsis and decreased kidney function in some cases of pyelonephritis."

Scientists are currently at work on a vaccine in hopes of inoculating vulnerable populations. Everyone is susceptible to UTIs, but they occur most commonly in women who are sexually active.

[image via Shutterstock]