SuperBug Danger

Superbug danger concept as a killer bacteria shaped as a death skull face as a symbol for MRSA medical healthcare risk and antimicrobial resistance health hazard icon as a bacterium infection inside the human body.

Super Bugs are deadly serious – is it already a plague? Will you be affected?

Superbugs are strains of bacteria that are resistant to several types of antibiotics. Each year these drug-resistant bacteria infect more than 2 million people worlwide including USA and South Africa and kill at least 23,000 people according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis (the super bug) is one of the dangers we now face in south Africa. TB was our biggest killer last year. I thought TB was a thing of the past with modern drugs.

Recent news reports about a newly described “superbug” are a little bit terrifying. This time, it’s not a flesh-eating bacterium or drug-resistant tuberculosis — in fact, it’s not a bacterial infection at all. It’s a fungus called Candida auris (C. auris). A couple of curious things have emerged about this organism. It seemed to appear out of nowhere in several places around the world at the same time. And right from the start, it’s been highly resistant to several standard antifungal medications. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than a third of people with C. auris infections die within a few months.

The problem starts with many antibiotics prescribed to people and even to animals being  unnecessary. And the overuse and misuse of antibiotics helps to create drug-resistant bacteria – the superBug.

Here’s how that might happen. When used properly, antibiotics can help destroy disease-causing bacteria. But if you take an antibiotic when you have a viral infection like the flu, the drug won’t affect the viruses making you sick – totally unnecessary.

Instead, it’ll destroy a wide variety of bacteria in your immune system, including some of the “good” bacteria that help you digest food, fight infection, and stay healthy. Bad bacteria that are tough enough to survive the drug will have a chance to grow and quickly multiply into a super bug that only a very strong immune system can kill.

These drug-resistant super bug strains may even spread to other people.

Over time, if more and more people take antibiotics when not necessary, drug-resistant bacteria can continue to thrive and spread. They may even share their drug-resistant traits with other bacteria. Drugs will become less effective or not work at all against certain disease-causing bacteria.

“Bacterial infections that were treatable for decades are no longer responding to antibiotics, even the newer ones,” says Dr. Dennis Dixon, an NIH expert in bacterial and fungal diseases.

“We need to make the best use of the drugs we have, as there aren’t many in the antibiotic development pipeline,” says Dr. Jane Knisely, who oversees studies of drug-resistant bacteria at NIH. “It’s important to understand the best way to use these drugs to increase their effectiveness and decrease the chances of resistance to emerge.”

You can help slow the spread of drug-resistant bacteria by taking antibiotics properly and only when needed. Don’t insist on an antibiotic if your health care provider advises otherwise. For example, many parents expect doctors to prescribe antibiotics for a child’s ear infection. But experts recommend delaying for a time in certain situations, as many ear infections get better without antibiotics – thanks to their strong immune system dealing with it – boosting the strength of the immune is more important than most people realize.

Now that brings me to the most important fact that is over-looked time and time again – the immune system. The system that we were created with to combat all diseases.

“Treating infections with antibiotics is something we want to preserve for generations to come, so we shouldn’t misuse them,” says Dr. Julie Segre, a senior investigator at NIH.

In the past, some of the most dangerous superbugs have been confined to health care settings. That’s because people who are sick or in a weakened state are more susceptible to picking up infections. But superbug infections aren’t limited to hospitals. Some strains are out in the community and anyone, even healthy people, can become infected.

A MRSA skin infection (which is the result of a superbug) can appear as one or more pimples or boils that are swollen, painful, or hot to the touch. The infection can spread through even a tiny cut or scrape that comes into contact with these bacteria. Many people recover from MRSA infections if they have strong immune systems, but some cases can be life-threatening. The CDC estimates that more than 80,000 aggressive MRSA infections and 11,000 related deaths occur each year in the United States.

When antibiotics are needed, doctors usually prescribe a mild one before trying something more aggressive like vancomycin. Such newer antibiotics can be more toxic and more expensive than older ones. Eventually, bacteria will develop resistance to even the new drugs. In recent years, some superbugs, such as vancomycin-resistant Enterococci bacteria, remain unaffected by even this antibiotic of the last resort.

“We rely on antibiotics to deliver modern health care,” Segre says. But with the rise of drug-resistant bacteria, “we’re running out of new antibiotics to treat bacterial infections,” and some of the more potent ones aren’t working as well.

Ideally, doctors would be able to quickly identify the right antibiotic to treat a particular infection. But labs need days or even weeks to test and identify the bacteria strain. Until the lab results come in, antibiotic treatment is often an educated guess whereas quickly building your immune system may be a better solution.

So I conclude by encouraging everyone to build, strengthen and balance their immune system on a daily basis – why get ill if you do not need to – why take on a dreaded disease if you can easily avoid it?

Click here for more information on strengthening your immune system.

Michael Plumstead