germ warfare

Win at germ warfare.

What is a superbug? It is an infection caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Doctors have few tools with which to fight or cure them. Every year 2 million people are infected by superbugs. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 70,000 Americans die each year from drug resistant infections – more than car accidents and homicides combined.

The misuse of antibiotics is the single leading contributor to the existence and strength of superbugs. Eventually, doctors will run out of any tools at all with which to fight them. Your risk of contracting a superbug increases each time you take antibiotics or are hospitalized. The World Health Organization has identified antibiotic resistance as one of the greatest threats there is for human health.

Here are the most threatening superbugs currently:

Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) is a family of bacteria usually found in your gut. E.Coli is an example. Healthy people do not usually get this type of infection. Most cases are people who are in a hospital or medical care facility. It can cause life-threatening blood infections and there are no effective treatments. 50% of patients who contract CRE die from it.

Neisseria gonorrhoeae is a sexually transmitted disease. Anyone who has sex can get this infection. If you are pregnant you can pass the infection to the baby during childbirth. Hundreds of thousands of people get gonorrhea annually. If untreated it can lead to infertility in both men and women.

Clostridium difficile (C.diff) is another bacteria that can live in your intestines usually causing no harm. If it overgrows, however, it triggers serious problems. Most people get C.diff while receiving medical care. If you are taking antibiotics, they will eliminate the healthy bacteria in your digestive track that can fight C.diff, and the C.diff will take over. If that happens, it can cause life-threatening diarrhea. About 27,000 Americans die from it and 290,000 are made sick by it annually. Spores of the bacteria can be picked up in bathrooms or on clothing. It can also be passed person to person.

MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphyloccus aureus) is bacteria that cannot be treated with penicillin. This infection is most often contracted by people in the hospital, often after surgery. It can infect a wound then spread to surrounding tissue and blood. MRSA can cause life-threatening lung and blood infections. More than 8,000 patients are killed by MRSA annually and 60,000 are sickened by it.

Multidrug-Resistant Acinetobacter is bacteria found in soil and water. It is most often seen in people who are in the hospital, especially those with breathing tubes. It can cause dangerous lung, brain and urinary tract infections. About 12,000 people get this infection in hospitals annually. It easily spreads between people and is difficult to treat.

How to protect against a superbug:

  • Live as healthy a lifestyle as possible, keeping your immune system strong so that you don’t have to go to the hospital where you might encounter most of the most dangerous superbugs. Keep your home and work area clean. Wash your fruits and vegetables before cooking and eating them.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly with soap and water. Wash for at least 15 seconds. Turn off public faucets using a paper towel. Hand-sanitizers are also handy but one superbug, C.diff, is resistant to them, but not to bar soap. Note: Antibacterial soap is controversial and has not been proven to be better than regular soap.
  • Make sure your doctors and every health-care provider examining you washes their hands. If they do not, don’t be reluctant to ask them to.
  • Get a flu shot annually. When people get the flu they are at higher risk for getting an infection because they have a weakened immune system.
  • Do not overuse antibiotics! Don’t pester your doctor to prescribe antibiotics for you. If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, ask whether you really need it and ask if there are alternatives. Antibiotics do not work for viruses or colds. Too many doctors routinely prescribe an antibiotic even if it won’t work because either the patient requests one, or because they feel the patient wants one.
  • If you must take an antibiotic, try to avoid a broad spectrum antibiotic because it will kill off the good bacteria as well as the bad.  When you MUST take antibiotics, also take a high quality pro-biotic – preferably one which is stored in the refrigerated section of your store.
  • Wash your kitchen sponges and rags in the dishwasher daily using hot water.
  • Be careful when traveling, as bacteria are more common in food and water supplies outside the U.S.
  • Try to eat meat and chicken that is labeled antibiotic-free. 80% of antibiotics in the U.S. are given to animals. Watch this Natural Resources Defense Council video explaining how antibiotics in the food we eat contributes to our antibiotic resistance.
  • It has been recently reported that heartburn drugs like Nexium and Prilosec increase the risk of contracting C.diff because they reduce the stomach acid that appears to keep the bacteria under control.