Most of us have heard the word -superbugs’, however few of us know what superbugs are, what they can do and how they can affect us. Wikipedia defines superbugs as being -antibiotic resistant, where the microorganism is able to survive even after exposure to an antibiotic . The belief is that superbugs emerged due to the widespread use of antibiotics, and since antibiotics have been overused, the bacteria were able to build up a resistance.
Apart from antibiotics that are prescribed by doctors to treat infections (and often incorrectly prescribed to treat viral infections), antibiotics are often found in the foods that we eat. Antibiotics are commonly used to rear animals, and common household products like hand or bath soaps, dishwashing liquids, etc, contain antibacterial properties and these are also being blamed for the increase of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
How do superbugs affect us?
Superbugs have the ability to spread incredibly fast and because they defy antibiotics, the superbugs are not easily treated. Since these bugs are so potent, the outcome is bleak and if a superbug does not result in death, those who contract the bug can end up with severe ongoing health problems or serious disabilities.
The types of superbugs
MRSA (or Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), is in essence an infection that has mutated and built up a resistance to antibiotics such as penicillin. Staphylococcus aureus is found naturally on the human skin and is also found in the noses of healthy people, but if this bacterium penetrates or enters the skin through cuts or wounds or it gets into the lungs, the result is an infection that has grave health problems. MRSA is spread rapidly by physical contact and the typical tell-tale signs of an infection include redness, swelling and tenderness of the infected area. In some cases, however, those who are carrying MRSA do not show any of the common signs or symptoms.
People who are most at risk of contracting this superbug are those who are already unhealthy and who have immune systems which are already weakened. MRSA is particularly common in hospital patients. Even though MRSA is one of the most documented superbugs, not much is known about the cause and effects of the other superbugs.
C-Dif or Clostridium Difficile infectious diarrhoea occurs secondary to a toxin that is produced by this bacterium. When people are in good health and are not taking any antibiotics and they have a good amount of good bacteria in their bodies, they’re able to keep the C-Dif under control. The case differs however, when patients are taking antibiotics and their good bacteria have been reduced. C-Dif can become extremely powerful and has the ability to overpopulate the colon or the intestines. The huge imbalance of good and bad bacteria can cause two main types of toxins to be created and these toxins start to attack the body.
The symptoms of C-Dif include diarrhoea, cramping of the stomach, dehydration, fever, nausea, vomiting, bloody stools and low blood pressure. The risk categories for C-Dif are those who have recently undergone surgery, as well as elderly hospital patients.
Escherichia coli. It may be hard to believe but the average person has about 11 trillion e-coli cells in their stomachs. However, due to mutation, some of these cells can become lethal and these mutated cells can cause illness and infection in body. A lot of these mutated e-coli cells have built up a resistance to most of the antibiotics that were once used to successfully treat these types of infections. The new e-coli superbug was first identified in 2000 and it became known as extended spectrum beta-lactamase, or ESBL. This strain of e-coli can affect the human body either through blood poisoning or with urinary tract infections and today this lethal strain is resistant to all but two oral antibiotics.
The fact that superbugs are resistant to antibiotics means that a new way of fighting these deadly bugs has to be found. After antibiotics were found, the human race believed that they had a cure or treatment for virtually every bug known to man. With bacterium mutating and become stronger than the antibiotics that are used to fight the bugs, the trick is finding an effective solution that is one step ahead of the rapidly mutating and powerful superbugs. Superbugs are becoming a serious health concern and drastic action is needed.
It’s important to bear in mind that a bacterium is a living organism and like other organisms it evolves and adapt to its environment. When an antibiotic is taken, the wonder drug eradicates susceptible bacteria and the surviving bacteria start to multiply and a new strain of bacteria is created, one which antibiotics do not have the power to kill. In developed countries antibiotics have been overused and misused for decades and this overuse has led to a strain of evolved bacteria that cannot be eradicated by antibiotics – the superbug.
The good news is that most people will not be infected by superbugs, but patients in hospitals, or care homes and in other environments where people are generally sick (orphanages, etc.) are at increased risk. Patients most susceptible to antibiotic-resistant bacteria are premature infants, children, the elderly, burn victims, bone marrow transplant patients and those who have weakened immune systems, like AIDS patients and leukaemia patients.
We can fight superbugs by improving infection control, creating new antibiotics and using drugs more effectively.
Drugs can be used more effectively by:
- Finishing your prescription of antibiotics, even if you feel better and all the symptoms have disappeared. Bacteria can still survive and reproduce if the full course of treatment if not taken.
- Not giving your child somebody else’s prescription, even if the symptoms are identical. Taking the wrong antibiotics can result in bacteria multiplying.
- Remember that antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections and not viral infections. Question your doctor and let him or her explain why an antibiotic is necessary.
Antibiotics may be the wonder drug of our time but with superbugs becoming a greater threat, parents are urged to question their medical caregivers if a course of antibiotics is indeed necessary to treat their child.