Iowans often misuse antimicrobials. We fill more antibiotic prescriptions, on a per-person basis, than residents of all but a handful of states.

Imagine a loved one develops cancer. Doctors administer chemotherapy — and the tumors start shrinking. But then, she contracts a bacterial infection that even the latest antibiotics can’t cure. Within days, she passes away.

Such drug-resistant infections pose a dire threat to cancer patients. They’ve already become the leading cause of death among leukemia patients in India, according to a recent report. Chemotherapy, which wipes out healthy cells in addition to tumors, makes these patients particularly vulnerable to bacterial and fungal bloodstream infections.

Just as in India, deadly bacteria are spreading to hospitals across America, despite doctors and nurses’ best efforts to maintain sterile environments. Unless we develop new medicines capable of wiping out these drug-resistant “superbugs,” they could kill millions of Americans.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infections already result in the greatest health care costs in the United States, and superbugs would cause that price tag to skyrocket.

Creating those new medicines won’t be easy. Most large drug companies have shut down their antibiotics research projects. Small biotech companies seeking to fill this space are struggling to stay in business. Developing new superbug treatments just isn’t financially viable in today’s economy.

If politicians don’t intervene to spur additional research, superbugs will continue to threaten American lives. Fortunately, as chairman of the influential Senate Finance Committee, Iowa’s Sen. Chuck Grassley is uniquely positioned to lead the fight against superbugs.

More from the Des Moines Register here.