The Rise of the Superbugs
Bacteria – I’m sure you’re aware, is commonly blamed for causing different types of infections and illness – which is true. Bacteria can cause disease in both humans and animals. But, are you aware that some types of bacteria, are able to live symbiotically inside both animals and humans? While other types of bacteria help produce antibiotics such as streptomycin and nocardicin.
Antibiotics are powerful medicines that fight infections caused by certain types of bacteria. When properly used, antibiotics can prevent deaths caused by bacterial infection by either killing the unwanted bacteria or by keeping the invasive bacteria from reproducing. With the assistance of the right antibiotics, your body’s natural defenses can usually take over and then fully eliminate most bacterial threats.
It’s important to remember, though, antibiotics do not fight other types of infections like those caused by viruses such as the common cold or influenza. And, in fact, if the cause of your illness is viral instead of bacterial taking antibiotics may actually do more harm than good! The overuse and misuse of antibiotics can contribute to antibiotic resistance – an ongoing problem in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that up to 50% of all the antibiotics prescribed for people are not needed or are not optimally effective as prescribed.
Antibiotics have also commonly been given to animals farmed for domestic food consumption such as beef, poultry, and pork to prevent, control, and treat disease, as well as, to promote animal growth. All factors that contribute to the problem of antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria transform in a manner that permits them to resist the intended effects of a particular antibiotic. These resistant bacteria are commonly called “superbugs” due to their adaptability.
Without the proper diagnosis and treatment, antibiotic-resistant bacteria can turn what starts out as a manageable infection into a superbug disease that can become extremely difficult, if not impossible, to properly treat. According to the same 2013 CDC report, at least two million people in the United States develop serious infections from antibiotic resistant bacteria – superbugs – each year, and approximately 23,000 people die from such infections yearly.
In the past, many superbugs have been confined to health care settings such as hospitals and nursing homes, since people who are sick or have a weakened immune system are generally more susceptible to picking up infections. But, superbug infections aren’t wholly limited to heath care settings. Some strains can be found in the community at large and everyone – even healthy people – are susceptible to infection. So, what’s being done about this threat?
Doctors are fighting against superbugs by attempting to properly diagnose the strain of bacterial infection before prescribing any antibiotic, since some bacterial infections may be treatable without the aid of an antibiotic. Doctors are also making a conscious effort when antibiotics are needed to prescribe a mild antibiotic prior to prescribing a more aggressive one. These steps are being taken in an effort to slow any development of resistance to antibiotics.
Genetic studies conducted by the National Institute of Health are also helping researchers to understand the unique characteristics of these antibiotic resistant superbugs. New lab and testing technology will continue to improve your doctor’s ability to quickly and accurately determine the particular strain of bacteria present, allowing your physician to correctly prescribe the most effective antibiotic possible at the outset.
These treatment strategies will hopefully slow the ability of various bacteria to adapt and become resistant other new and stronger antibiotics, while continued research promises to produce innovative new treatments in the future.
What can you do?
While scientists research ways to fight antibiotic resistant bacteria, you can help stifle the spread of superbug bacteria by preventing the spread of germs generally, so antibiotics are used less often. One of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs and bacterial infection is by routinely washing your hands with soap and warm water. You should also avoid sharing personal items and regularly clean your tablet, computer keyboard, mouse, and smart phone with an antibacterial sanitizer. Also, its important to only use antibiotics as directed by your doctor.
If you have more questions about antibiotic resistant superbugs, or the proper use of antibiotics, you can ask your doctor during your next visit. And remember, it’s easy to seek a professional opinion about whether your symptoms suggest a bacterial infection or viral infection with online doctor consultations, available whenever and wherever – from MeMD.