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To prevent another pandemic, new bill hopes to coordinate global fight against drug-resistant bacteria

California’s three-year-long COVID-19 state of emergency is officially over, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced this week, but Rep. Mike Levin is planning ahead to prevent the next pandemic.

Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, is behind bipartisan legislation tasking the Department of Health and Human Services and State Department to partner with foreign countries, nonprofits, public health organizations and other groups, including those in the private sector, “to increase the availability of new drugs, treatments and diagnostics for drug-resistant pathogens,” dubbed “superbugs.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic made it clear that we need international cooperation to effectively fight against diseases that could lead to the next global pandemic,” Levin said. “My legislation would direct a global strategy to develop and commercialize drugs and other products to fight superbugs and prevent another global pandemic.”

While the bill aims for the U.S. to coordinate with the international community to stave off future pandemics, Levin said it could also help fight against Valley Fever, an illness caused by a fungus endemic to the dry southwest soil that disproportionately affects Californians.

About 20,000 cases are reported nationwide each year, and in 2022, nearly 8,000 cases were reported in California, according to the Department of Public Health. While most cases in 2022 were reported in Kern and Los Angeles counties, according to the CDPH, Orange County ranked No. 7 with 297 cases last year.

Nearly half of those who are infected develop symptoms, which include fatigue, cough, fever, shortness of breath and joint pain, according to the CDC, which noted most people usually get better on their own within weeks or months but some need antifungal medication and others may get severely ill.

Unlike COVID, Valley Fever isn’t contagious, but the CDC warns that “outbreaks linked to a common source do occasionally occur.” Currently, no preventative vaccine exists.

“Besides the typical bacterial infections resistant to antibiotics that most people know about, California is really experiencing an issue surrounding Valley Fever,” said Raymond Rodriguez, a spokesperson for Levin. “Antifungals are becoming less effective against Valley Fever which makes enhanced antimicrobial development even more important.”

A goal of more coordination

Levin’s bill would task the HHS secretary and the secretary of state to come up with a strategy to “secure support from foreign countries, multilateral organizations, and other appropriate entities to facilitate the development and commercialization of qualified pandemic or epidemic products, including such products to address antimicrobial resistant pathogens.”

“We want to ensure that there is coordination between governments and streamlined access to vital treatments ahead of the next pandemic,” Rodriguez said.

Recently-approved antibiotics are “insufficient to tackle the challenge of increasing emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance,” which occurs when germs don’t respond to drugs designed to kill them, an annual review of antibiotic development released by the World Health Organization in June said

Superbugs infect at least 2.8 million people in the U.S. every year, according to CDC estimates, and more than 35,000 die as a result.

“The United States needs to take swift and decisive steps to improve our antimicrobial research and development,” Georgia Rep. Drew Ferguson, a Republican co-sponsor of the bill, said. “One fast emerging health threat — the growing rates of infections that antibiotics cannot cure — could become the next pandemic if we fail to prepare.”

The bill is endorsed by a number of medical organizations, including the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the American Society of Microbiology.

Dubbed the Saving Us from Pandemic Era Resistance by Building a Unified Global Strategy (SUPER BUGS) Act, the bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts, and Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nevada, as well as Ferguson. It has been assigned to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The legislation was introduced in the previous Congress but died before it received a vote.

Source: Orange County Register

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