Researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy are teaming up with the UW Department of Geography to develop interactive antibiotic resistance maps to replace current data tables.
Laurel Legenza, UW School of Pharmacy global health fellow, is working on the project, which could transform how antibiotic resistance data is shown to health care providers and the community. She said current antibiotic resistance data tables are outdated and difficult to interpret, but the new visualization will make this data easier to read.
“We’re working now to transform this data into interactive, weather-like maps that show areas where resistance is changing so that the viewer can have an immediate reaction of where there’s higher areas of antibacterial resistance across the state of Wisconsin,” Legenza said.
Antibiotic resistance is a growing trend, Legenza said. Resistance can develop in several different ways, such as by taking too many antibiotics, or environmental and patient exposure to bacteria.
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Patient’s face health risks if they are treated with an antibiotic that is ineffective against the bacteria, Legenza said.
“If they have an infection and they get an antibiotic that the bacteria infection they have is resistant to that antibiotic or not susceptible to it, it means that their infection could progress and become worse, potentially be life-threatening or that they won’t get better as quickly,” Legenza said.
Easier to read, interactive data will also help health care providers choose an antibiotic when starting treatment for a patient, Legenza said.
Susanne Barnett, associate professor at the School of Pharmacy, explained the conundrum that arises with frequent antibiotic use. The more antibiotics a person takes, the more resistant the bacteria within a person become to antibiotics, she said.
Barnett said by changing the way antibiotic data is presented, doctors will be able to prescribe an antibiotic that will kill the bacteria that need to be inhibited without killing too broad a spectrum of bacteria.
Barnett said she hopes better use of antibiotics will lead to improved patient outcomes.
“One of the goals of using and redesigning the way antibiograms are visualized is to allow for clinicians to use the most narrow spectrum of antibiotics while still ensuring that they’re choosing the right antibiotic the first time,” Barnett said.
The School of Pharmacy’s collaboration with the State Cartographer’s office has given them the chance to revisualize this data, Legenza said.
The revisualizing will help to see changes across the state regarding resistance, Legenza said.
“By looking at it from a geography perspective, we’ll be able to see, are there parts of the state where resistance is changing more quickly, or parts that are stable or maybe even parts where resistance levels are starting to improve,” Legenza said.
Antibiotic resistance varies by location, Legenza said. There is variation at a global and national level, and across Wisconsin. The next phase of the project will focus on variations at the community level, Legenza added.
Associate state cartographer Jim Lacy has been a resource for the School of Pharmacy researchers, including Legenza, with how to effectively visualize this data.
The project also gives practical, real-world experience to students who work in the State Cartographer’s office, Lacy said.
“One of the reasons why we’re very interested in this project is it really gives real-world experience to our students,” Lacy said. “It gives them great work experience for when they graduate, that’s one of our main goals.”
In addition to providing students with real-world experience, the project addresses a big societal problem, Lacy said.
Lacy believes universities should be using interdisciplinary approaches with students to tackle more large-scale problems.
“I think it’s kind of neat to bring those two different groups, levels of expertise together,” Lacy said. “I never expected that I’d be working on something related to antibiotic resistance.”
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To Legenza’s knowledge, this is the first project that uses geographic and population factors alongside antibiotic resistance data.
The project is currently only in Wisconsin, though it has the potential to expand to the national or global level, Legenza said. With the interactive data, researchers can direct future initiatives, policy and programs to reduce antibiotic resistance in Wisconsin, Legenza said.
“Through this novel collaboration we’re able to create an innovative solution we hope that will transform the way that antibiotics are prescribed,” Legenza said.