Dr. Arjun Srinivasan, associate director at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with "Frontline" on PBS antibiotics are one of the most, if not the most, transformational discoveries in all of medicine.
"Infections are something that we struggled to treat for many, many years, for centuries before the advent of antibiotics, and infections were a major cause of death before the advent of antibiotics," he said. "These drugs are miracle drugs, these antibiotics that we have, but we haven't taken good care of them over the 50 years that we've had them. We've fueled this fire of bacterial resistance."
U.S. health officials said in September more than 2 million U.S. adults and children get infections resistant to antibiotics each year, and at least 23,000 die as a result.
Bacteria, like any living organism, want to survive. Bacterial resistance is largely inevitable, because bacteria will always change to survive.
There are many kinds of bacteria, and it's likely one among them will be resistant to an antibiotic.
"The more you use an antibiotic, the more you expose a bacteria to an antibiotic, the greater the likelihood that resistance to that antibiotic is going to develop," Srinivasan said. "So the more antibiotics we put into people, we put into the environment, we put into livestock, the more opportunities we create for these bacteria to become resistant.
"For a long time, there have been newspaper stories and magazine articles that asked 'The end of antibiotics?'" he said. "Well, now I would say you can change the title to 'The end of antibiotics, period.'"
The researcher said medicine has had to "dust off the shelves" to use antibiotics that haven't been used in years because of high toxicity and development of newer antibiotics.
"We know that we can improve the use of antibiotics," Srinivasan said. "We know that we're not doing what we should be doing."
Srinivasan said as much as half of all antibiotics used in clinics and hospitals "are either unneeded or patients are getting the wrong drugs to treat their infections."
In addition, he said studies show people who work in hospitals fail very often to take simple steps to fight infection -- including hand washing, and wearing gowns and gloves when recommended.
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