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antibiotic resistance "weather map"

A prototype shows an antibiotic resistance "weather map" being developed by UW-Madison pharmacy researchers.

Doctors in Wisconsin may soon be able to look at a “weather map” of antibiotic resistance to help choose a drug for a patient’s infection, thanks to a project by UW-Madison pharmacy researchers.

The researchers are developing an online map, similar to a weather map, to track where E.coli, staph and other bacteria are most resistant to certain antibiotics. Currently, many doctors rely on paper tables that can be confusing to interpret.

The map could let doctors quickly choose antibiotics that work best against the infection involved. That could help reduce the estimated 2 million annual antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections among Americans, 23,000 of them deadly.

“The goal is that health care providers will have a better understanding of regional antibiotic resistance trends in the area that they work, and also be aware of how resistance is changing across the state,” said Laurel Legenza, a global health fellow at the UW-Madison School of Pharmacy.

Warren Rose, an associate professor of pharmacy, said tracking antibiotic resistance is important because antibiotics are widely used in medicine, from births to surgeries. People with infections for which few or no drugs work can face dire consequences, and spread the germs to others.

“It could really compromise health care as a whole,” Rose said.

Susanne Barnett, an associate professor of pharmacy, and Jim Lacy, associate state cartographer, are also working on the project.

The researchers are calling the map an “antimicrobial resistance visualizer.”

So far, they’ve used E.coli lab test data from about 70 clinics and hospitals around the state, from 2009, 2013 and 2015.

They plan to add recent data from more places and for other bacteria — along with information about drug sales, demographics and infection sites — to predict antibiotic resistance hot spots.

For E.coli, some drugs are effective 95 percent of the time or more, while others work only about 70 percent of the time, Legenza said. Patients might be getting the wrong drug if their doctors don’t have detailed information about what is circulating in their local community, she said.

“We want to inform an antibiotic treatment decision when the patient is there and (a drug) needs to be started,” Legenza said.

The UW-Madison researchers said they aren’t aware of other state-based antibiotic resistance map efforts.

They hope to have their map ready for doctors by spring or summer of 2019.