Are superbugs real? According to experts at the World Health Organization (WHO) the answer is a resounding yes. Superbugs are microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites that mutate, or change, over time and have adapted to become resistant to certain medications. Many traditional medicines, like antibiotics and antifungals, are not effective in treating superbugs. This results in stubborn, drug-resistant infections that are easily spread and present a global threat.
For the last 70 years, antibiotics have been used to treat patients with infectious diseases. These drugs greatly reduce illness and death from these diseases, but their overuse has resulted in organisms that no longer respond to treatment. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that “Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections.”
Every year, thousands of people worldwide develop drug-resistant tuberculosis and drug resistance is gaining momentum with patients fighting against HIV and malaria. In addition, the WHO includes E.coli, MRSA, staph infections, gonorrhea, salmonella, and h. Pylori among illnesses that are most critical for the development of new antibiotics. While anyone may fall sick with these diseases, children and the elderly are particularly at risk. According to Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, the WHO's Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation, "Antibiotic resistance is growing, and we are fast running out of treatment options. If we leave it to market forces alone, the new antibiotics we most urgently need are not going to be developed in time."
How to Prevent the Spread of Superbugs
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends these actions to help protect the general population from superbugs:
- Prevent Infections –Superbug infections can be prevented with immunizations, safe food handling and preparation, regular hand washing, and using antibiotics only as necessary. People are more susceptible to superbug infections if they already have the flu, pneumonia, or shingles. These simple prevention strategies can save millions of lives because the key to avoiding superbugs is to prevent infection in the first place.
- Track Data—The CDC gathers data on antibiotic-resistant infections, causes of infections and whether there are risk factors that cause some people to get a superbug infection. With that information, experts develop strategies to prevent those infections from spreading.
- Use Antibiotics the Right Way—Changing the way that doctors prescribe antibiotics is one of the most effective ways to control the evolution and spread of superbugs. Overusing and misusing antibiotics has led to a global threat. According to the CDC, “up to half of antibiotic prescriptions in U.S. hospitals are unnecessary.”
As a patient, do not insist that your doctor give you antibiotics until testing determines whether they are appropriate for treating your illness. Remember that colds, flu, most sore throats, and bronchitis are caused by viruses that are not helped by antibiotics. In fact, taking unnecessary antibiotics when you have a virus increases your risk of getting an infection later that resists antibiotics. Simply treating the symptoms may be the best course of action.
- Protect the Food Supply—Up to 80% of antibiotics consumed in the United States come from the food supply, given to animals not to treat infection but to make them grow larger. Stopping the inappropriate use of antibiotics in people and animals would greatly slow the spread of drug-resistant bacteria. As a consumer, look for the "USDA Certified Organic" label on meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products, which means that they come from animals that were not given any antibiotics.
- Develop New Drugs and Treatments—Antibiotic resistance is part of a natural process in which bacteria evolve, so it can be slowed but not stopped. There will always be a need to develop new antibiotics to keep up with drug-resistant bacteria and testing to track the development of new superbugs.
For questions or additional information on how to protect yourself from antimicrobial-resistant infections, consult your physician.
If you have any questions regarding infectious diseases, please reach out to Dr. Sebeny at Appledore Infectious Disease. If you have any questions about your general health you can contact one of our expert care providers at Appledore Medical Group. You can book your next appointment online, and learn about our network of skilled practitioners.
World Health Organization—www.who.int
Centers for Disease Control—www.cdc.gov