The rise of superbugs is a creating a global healthcare emergency.
What are Superbugs?
Superbugs are bacteria that are resistant to medications. The overuse of antibiotics is causing superbugs to rise. One of the most commonly known ones is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. The CDC has recently become concerned about two new threats: carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE) and shigella. CRE kills “almost 50 percent of hospital patients who are infected”. Shigella comes from overseas travel, and it is “a highly contagious bacteria…resistant to several common antibiotics”.1 According to the Centers for Disease Control, “about 2 million people get sick from a superbug…(and) about 23,000 die” annually. Superbugs are not necessarily resistant to every antibiotic available, but “multidrug-resistant bacteria” are resistant to at least two drugs. These bacteria arise when antibiotics are misused; either the drugs are taken when they aren’t necessary or the medication is not completely finished. The risk of superbugs increases with antibiotic overuse and with hospital stays.2
President Obama’s 2015 White House report on this situation has identified urgent threats, such as CRE, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, C. diff, Acinetobacter baumannii, and MRSA. Hospitalized people are most at risk of CRE due to contaminated medical tools, for example. E. coli is a type of CRE. N. gonorrhoeae causes the STD gonorrhea and is passed on via sexual contact and even during childbirth. If it cannot be treated by antibiotics, it can lead to infertility, blood infections, and increase the risk for other STDs, including HIV. Clostridium difficile (C. diff), can live without harm in the intestines, but it could “overgrow, triggering serious problems”. Antibiotics kill the healthy bacteria allowing C. diff a chance to grow, leading to the possibility of “life-threatening diarrhea” or surgery to remove part of an intestine. The bacteria can be transmitted between people, and the particles can be found on clothing, in linens, and in bathrooms. Acinetobacter baumannii is found in water, soil, and can live on the skin. Being hooked up to a breathing tube in the hospital increases the risk of this infection. It is “a ‘significant’ hospital germ…(that) can develop antibiotic resistance more rapidly” than other types of bacteria. These could cause infections in the urinary tract, lung, and brain. MRSA is a staph infection that generally impacts hospital patients that can spread from a wound. There have been outbreaks in schools and among athletes as well. It can transmit from skin contact.3
Besides doctors prescribing less antibiotics and patients refusing to take unnecessary antibiotics, there is also the option to “limit the agricultural use of antibiotics”. Additionally, researchers need to continue to work on new antibiotics, even though they are expensive to make. The IDSA (Infectious Diseases Society of America) has put forth the “10×20” proposal to get “ten new antibiotics by 2020. The IDSA has proposed “financial incentives, such as tax credits, guaranteed markets and prizes, to encourage investment in research” and new medications that fight “especially problematic diseases should get extra patent protection”. This kind of proposal can be combined with “stricter dispensing guidelines for doctors”.4 Consumers should not push for antibiotics, as some infections will not respond to them (such as viruses), and others can be fought off by the body, such as eczema and ear, eye, sinus, and many respiratory infections. Targeted drugs are better, and broad spectrum antibiotics should be avoided whenever possible. Even antibiotic creams should not be used often. Consumers should practice good hygiene, including hand washing with regular soap and water instead of antibacterial cleaners.5
Find our more about MRSA.