We perceive bacterial infections to be little more than a nuisance—with the 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, are resistant to many commonly used antibiotics and that makes 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. Simple infections of the skin, urinary tract, ear and lungs are becoming increasingly more stubborn to cure and often require stronger antibiotics than in the past. Sometimes, the infections require combinations of antibiotic drugs.
New strains of the best-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) estimates that MRSA cause serious infections in over 82,000 patients per year and kill 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 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 to battle infections in the human population.
Bacteria exist in astronomical numbers in our environment. They reproduce rapidly and evolve readily to pass on genetic traits—including antibiotic resistance—to succeeding generations as well as to other bacteria. The more often bacteria encounter antibiotics, 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) Ask your doctor to prescribe an antibiotic only if it’s absolutely necessary. Inappropriate prescription use for simple coughs and colds are the number one problem area with 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 an antibiotic is appropriately prescribed, take all the medication—even if you feel better. In that way, the drug will completely eradicate the offending bacteria rather than merely weakening the organisms.
3) Consider buying meat raised without antibiotic use. Experts agree that fewer 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 available antibiotic therapies.
SUPERBUGS are on the rise! The simple solution is to remove indiscriminate use of antibiotics from our environment. That’s a responsibility our government, agricultural and healthcare professionals must shoulder. But we, as individuals, must share some of that responsibility also.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!