Drug resistant superbugs

This post is a first in a series on Drug Resistant Superbugs.

Drug resistance is often called antimicrobial resistance (AMR). AMR occurs when a treatment loses its power to stop an infection or a disease caused by organisms or microbes, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and some parasites.

When organisms fight off or become “resistant” to treatment, they multiply and cause more harm. When this occurs, the organisms are called “superbugs”. These superbugs are a serious public health threat because they cause new strains of disease that can kill and spread to others. Superbugs are difficult to cure and expensive to treat. They are an enormous cost for individuals and society.

Antibiotics for bacterial infections only

Bacteria are found everywhere in the environment and in our bodies. Some bacteria are helpful, but others can be harmful. Antibiotics kill harmful bacteria that cause infection or disease, such as strep throat or sinus infections. They do NOT kill viruses that cause colds, bronchitis, runny noses or flu symptoms.

For more than 70 years, commercially manufactured antibiotics have saved countless lives. However, health experts are now tracking the rise in antibiotic resistance, where bacteria build defences against antibiotics that used to kill them. Should this persist, we risk going back to the days when people died from ordinary infections.

What causes antibiotic resistance?

When you take antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed; however, sometimes bacteria can escape the effect of the antibiotic. Bacteria that survive can multiply and replace the bacteria that were wiped out. Also, the genetic material (DNA) that code for resistance can be transfered from one bacteria to the next. Bacteria that are sensitive to antibiotics can mutate and build resistance by acquiring pieces of DNA from bacteria that are more resistant – the superbugs.

The interplay among bacteria causes the resistance, but people are also to blame. Overuse and mismanagement of antibiotic therapy and hygiene practices result in increased resistance. Resistant strains of bacteria are the source of hospital acquired infections all over the world. In the agricultural industry, the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals to help herds grow faster contributes to the spread of resistant bacteria to humans through the foods we eat.

Why the concern?

With advances in major surgery, organ transplants and cancer treatment, a world without antibiotics is inconceivable. The superbugs have become sophisticated in fighting off   antibiotics. The carbapenem antibiotics, which are often used as the last resort for superbug infections, are now showing signs of resistance. According to a U.S. policy report, resistant strains are now responsible for causing 2 million infections and 23,000 deaths each year in the U.S. alone. The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that infectious diseases are rapidly becoming untreatable and uncontrollable worlwide.

Simple things you can do

You can’t completely reverse antibiotic resistance, but there are some things that you can do to help decrease or reduce resistance. Here are some simple actions:

1. Adhere to your doctor’s antibiotic prescription.

2. Take the right antibiotic at the prescribed dosage and time.

3. Never take only a few antibiotics. Finish the entire prescription, even when you are feeling better.

4. Do not share antibiotics or save leftovers for future use.

5. Determine with your medical provider whether your infection is viral or bacterial.

6. Never take antibiotics for viral infections (for colds or flus).

7. Do not pressure your doctor to prescribe antibiotics when there is no need.

8. Find ways to relieve flu or cold symptoms.

9. Maintain good hygiene habits. Cover your mouth when you sneeze and practice good hand washing.

10. Discuss the flu shot with your medical provider.

11. Strenghten your immune system through vaccination.

12. Eat healthy foods, sleep well and exercise regularly.

Photo Courtesy of: Sparky
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Julie Zimmer

Julie has extensive experience in nursing practice and education in a wide range of fields from intensive/coronary care, to medical-surgical to community and public health. Julie has Bachelor Degrees in Psychology and Nursing, and a Master’s Degree in Community Health Nursing Education. She has taught in faculties of nursing and in various communities in Toronto, Canada and in Geneva, Switzerland, and is a consultant to the International Council of Nurses (ICN). Julie also has years of experience teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) in addition to coordinating an English department in a Swiss private school.

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