Superbugs: What Are They and Should You Be Concerned?
For decades, antibiotics, such as Penicillin and Septra DS, have efficiently destroyed most of the harmful bacteria that enters our body. However, in recent years, antibiotics haven't been quite as effective against certain types of bacteria as they once were. There are some types of bacteria that simply cannot be eradicated with today's medicines. Referred to as "superbugs", they have potentially devastating consequences.
The Origin of Superbugs
Currently, antibiotics are the most commonly prescribed medication. While they are necessary for the treatment of bacterial infections, such as some types of pneumonia, strep throat, and ear infections, the same cannot be said for viral infections, such as the flu or common cold. Although antibiotics can NOT treat viral infections, they may be prescribed anyway. In some cases, this is simply to pacify the patient. The overuse/ misuse of antibiotics has resulted in the creation of bacteria that is resistant to drugs, known as superbugs.
When antibiotics are introduced to the body, they are meant to kill "bad" bacteria. If they are taken when there is no "bad" bacteria present, they will quickly go after the "good" bacteria. "Good" bacteria is needed to fight infection and help maintain your overall health. The bacteria that survives the onslaught of antibiotics has the opportunity to quickly grow and replicate and develop a resistance to antibiotics.
Life Threatening Superbugs
One of the most common and oldest superbugs is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, more commonly referred to as MRSA. As of 2014, MRSA is responsible for approximately 23,000 deaths a year in the United States. There are two forms of MRSA:
Health Care-Associated MRSA (HA-MRSA): This type of MRSA is seen in individuals who have been cared for in a healthcare facility, including a hospital, dialysis center, or nursing home. In most cases, it is linked to an invasive procedure, such as the insertion of an IV or surgeries. It is significantly more dangerous than the other form, though it does respond to some type of antibiotics. Unfortunately, it takes time to identify what antibiotic can treat the condition and some patients simply don't have that time left.
Community-Associated MRSA (CA-MRSA): This form of MRSA usually occurs among healthy individuals who pick it up through skin to skin contact. It is most often seen in young children, childcare workers, and people who live in crowded homes. In this situation, doctors can usually drain the abscess instead of attempting to treat it with an antibiotic.
Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococci (VRE)
Enterococcus is a bacterium that is found naturally in a woman's genital tract and the intestinal tract of both sexes. As long as it doesn't spread, it doesn't present any problem. However, when it moves into other parts of the body, such as the bloodstream, a wound, or the urinary tract, it can result in a dangerous infection, particularly in individuals with a compromised immune system. This bacterium tolerates Vancomycin, a common antibiotic, and can result in death if an antibiotic that eradicates it cannot be found.
Clostridium Difficile (C. Diff)
C. Diff most often occurs in individuals receiving long-term medical care and antibiotic treatment. It is very easily spread and can only be killed by bleach. While it can usually be treated effectively with Vancomycin or Metronidazole, C. Diff is responsible for the death of more than 100,000 Americans each year, according to the CDC.
Should You Worry About Superbugs?
Yes, especially if your immune system is compromised. The incidence of superbugs is rising, a trend that is expected to continue. According to the World Health Organization, superbugs have now spread worldwide and is a problem that is "so serious that it threatens the achievements of modern medicine." In fact, a recently released report estimates that superbugs could be responsible for more than 10 million deaths a year worldwide by 2050. This could cost as much as $100 trillion.
As with most illnesses, your best line of protection starts with thoroughly washing your hands on a regular basis, and living a healthy and nutritious lifestyle.