How they are averted, thwarted and eventually cured.
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria adapt over time to the drugs that are designed to kill them — they mutate to survive. These “superbugs” are the resulting strains of bacteria that are resilient to most antibiotics prescribed today, rendering standard treatments ineffective.
Dr. Susan Bleasdale, medical director of Infection Control at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says, “Superbugs are resistant to multiple antibiotic classes. They form by antibiotic pressure that causes the bacteria to develop resistance. This can be antibiotics used in animal agriculture or in humans. Some superbugs can spread resistance to other bacteria through little packages called plasmids.”
While most superbugs generally affect those in the hospital, that number is on the rise. Bleasdale notes that one woman in Pennsylvania had a urinary tract infection that was resistant to an antibiotic she had never received, one that was typically used as a last resort.
How to Prevent Superbugs
One way to protect against superbugs is to only use antibiotics when absolutely necessary. Bleasdale says that many respiratory infections are caused by viruses like colds, flu and bronchitis — not something treatable by antibiotics. “Know that bacteria is part of our bodies and a positive culture with bacteria is not always an infection.”
She suggests frequent hand washing, getting a flu vaccine and avoiding others who are sick.
“To prevent superbugs, we need to choose wisely when we use antibiotics,” she says. “We should only use for the right diagnosis, right type of antibiotic and right duration of time.”
Doctors and medical personnel are working on preventing the spread of superbugs in the hospital through infection control, while researchers are looking into why these infections spread.
“There is now a requirement for all hospitals to have antibiotic stewardship programs. These help us to use antibiotics appropriately. The President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST) developed the Combat Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria (CARB) Program. CARB is a program to increase the number of new antibiotics in the pipeline of development and to expedite them through the FDA process to use,” says Bleasdale.
If you are concerned about superbugs and think you might need antibiotics to treat an illness, talk with your doctor about weighing the risks, benefits and side effects. Together, you and your doctor will make the best decision for your body.