SUPERBUG!  This is not the name of the hip new Volkswagen.  It is something that should make you shake in your boots.  As a population we have become accustomed to going to the doctor when we get sick, getting a prescription, and getting better. Oftentimes we don’t even need the pill, it can’t do anything to fight off viruses, and having it can do more harm than good in the long run because we are inadvertently developing bacteria that are resistant to our antibiotics. Joe picked up two of the most deadly drug-resistant infections, Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) and Klebsiella pneumonia during the 16 months he spent in hospitals, nursing homes, and rehab facilities .   These drug-resistant infections are becoming a big problem for healthcare facilities but they are also increasingly becoming a problem out in the general public. I know of two people close to me that have MRSA and another that had an infection in her spine that very nearly killed her.  All of these cases were highly resistant to antibiotics.  Even routine infections of the ear and urinary tract are becoming increasingly harder to kill and taking more drugs than usual to clear up.

Certain bacteria that cause infections in the hospital are becoming more lethal and drug resistant.  For now the resistant bacteria are still the exception and not the rule but they show what can happen if they are not stopped.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that MRSA caused infections in 82,042 Americans in 2010 and killed 11,478. Another study by researchers from the University HealthSystem Consortium and the University of Chicago found that the rate of MRSA infections recorded at academic hospitals had doubled between 2003 and 2008.

What has caused the explosion of the superbugs? As is the case with most things, there is no simple answer. The lengthy and expensive process to develop and approve new antibiotics has contributed to the lack of new and innovative antibiotic treatments. One of the biggest causes though has to do with the prevalence of antibiotics in our daily lives. Annually in this country 7 million pounds of antibiotics are taken by people.  More surprisingly, and a cause for greater concern, are the antibiotics we don’t realize we are taking. An additional 29 million pounds of antibiotics are given to livestock in this country each year. You eat the meats and you end up with an unintended dose of antibiotics for your trouble.

Joe contracted Klebsiella somewhere in his travels between nursing homes and hospitals.  As a patient not moving around due to the stroke and also with a tracheotomy, he was more susceptible to all kinds of germs.  They gave him a drug “that they got from the basement,” according to one of his nurses, meaning it was a drug that is not used much anymore.  Colistin was first discovered in the late 40’s but had fallen out of widespread use because of its toxic effect on kidneys if dosages were not very carefully monitored. It is currently used as a last-resort drug to treat Klebsiella and other gram-negative resistant infections. While it’s use slowed the infection in Joe, it had the end result of causing his kidneys to fail. The infection was still present when he died nine months later.

Antibiotics can be life savers but they should be used sparingly.  Only use antibiotics if you have a bacterial or some fungal infections.  They will not help if you have a virus.  Below is a breakdown of some common ailments into the categories of bacterial or viral.

Bacterial Infections

  • Bladder infections
  • Wound and skin infections
  • Staph infections
  • Severe sinus infections
  • Some ear infections
  • Strep throat

Viral Infections

  • Bronchitis
  • Common Cold
  • Flu
  • Most coughs
  • Most ear infections
  • Most sore throats
  • Stomach flu

If you’re given an antibiotic by the doctor take it as prescribed.  If you start to feel better but haven’t taken the full dosage don’t quit taking the remainder of the drug.  Not taking the full dose may take care of part of the bacteria but not all.  At this point the remaining bacteria may start to grow again and become more resistant and spread to other people.

We need to keep this monster at bay. I saw Joe suffer with drug-resistant infections and the side effects of the drugs that were used to treat them. One of the easiest ways we can help slow their spread is by washing our hands frequently with soap and water. This is the simplest way to prevent spreading germs. Unfortunately using hand sanitizer all of the time could actually be promoting the development of these drug-resistant infections.

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