We perceive bacterial infections to be little more than a nuisance—with a simple fix of taking an antibiotic for a few days and then we’re back to feeling one hundred percent. Fortunately, that’s usually the case.
Certain bacteria, however, have become resistant to many commonly used antibiotics and that can make these little bugs much more ominous. When infectious bacteria become resistant to treatment, they’re labeled as SUPERBUGS.
The SUPERBUG phenomenon occurs with overuse or improper use of antibiotic therapy, and the problem isn’t confined to hospitals or other institutional settings. Simple infections of the skin, urinary tract, ear and lungs are increasingly more stubborn to cure and often require stronger antibiotics than in the past or require combinations of drugs.
New strains of the most well known superbug, MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staph aureus), are attacking people outside of health care facilities and causing very aggressive infections that are difficult to cure.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) in 2010 estimated that MRSA caused serious infections in over 82,000 patients and killed over 11,000 of them. It has been noted that the elderly are the most susceptible to contracting a superbug.
So just how have we humans allowed these tiny organisms to get stronger and become so difficult to battle? The simple answer is that we’ve saturated our environment with antibiotics, the same amazing drugs that were created to fight bacterial infections. And it’s not just healthcare professionals who are to blame.
While over 7 million pounds of antibiotics are sold for human use each year, over 29 million pounds are sold for use in food animals. Experts argue that animal injections or adding antibiotics to feed stock represent a gross overuse of antibiotic drugs and that this makes the drugs less likely to work when we need them the most.
Bacteria exist in astronomical numbers in our environment. They reproduce rapidly and evolve readily to pass genetic traits—including antibiotic resistance—to succeeding generations as well as to other bacteria. The more bacteria encounter an antibiotic, the more readily they cultivate hardier versions of themselves capable of overcoming a drug attack.
Researchers tell us that there are several actions that can be taken to minimize bacterial antibiotic resistance:
1) Make sure your doctor knows that you only want an antibiotic if it’s absolutely necessary. Inappropriate prescription use for simple coughs and colds are the number one problem area for antibiotic use. Medical professionals estimate that only one in five infections require antibiotics. The great majority of infections are due to viruses, not bacteria, and an antibiotic is ineffective against viruses.
2) When appropriately prescribed an antibiotic, take all the medication—even if you feel better. In that way, the drug will completely eradicate the offending bacteria rather than merely weaken the organisms.
3) Consider buying meat raised without antibiotic use. Experts agree that less antibiotics in food animals will slow the development of resistant bacteria.
4) Use simple soap and water frequently to clean hands rather than an antibacterial soap or cleanser. Just as with animal feeds, the use of antibiotics in cleansers can foster the emergence of resistant bacteria.
Increased casual use of antibiotics is a global phenomenon, and it causes a greater degree of bacterial resistance to currently available antibiotic therapies.
SUPERBUGS are on the rise! Resistance is produced and enhanced by the misuse of antibiotics.
The simple solution is to remove indiscriminate use of antibiotics from our environment, and that’s a responsibility our government, agricultural and healthcare professionals must shoulder. But we, as individuals, must share some of that responsibility.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!