Superbugs have almost become a buzz word in current media, and for good reason. But what exactly are superbugs?
As many of us know, bacteria can become resistant to certain antibiotics. According to the BBC, as a result of natural selection, the genes in the bacteria can randomly change and mutate, giving them the ability to survive certain drugs, like carbapenem. The resistant bacteria eventually reproduce and multiply, causing an aggressive spread of what we now call a superbug.
This week on national news, several media outlets, even Good Morning America and CNN, were all abuzz, reporting some new findings on antibiotic-resistant bacteria. On Monday, the National Academy of Sciences released a new published study that showed carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, also known as CRE, is spreading more rapidly and widely than before.
To have a little more background on CRE itself, one must understand when and why it is used in healthcare settings. When a patient’s infection is caused by multidrug-resistant (MDR) bacteria and their condition does not improve, medical professionals often administer a “last-resort” antibiotic, known as carbapenem. Unfortunately, some aggressive bacteria are so strong that they are able to resist this drug as well and can quickly spread throughout hospitals and long-term care facilities. The CDC now estimates that there are over 9,300 infections and 600 deaths each year alone from CRE.
That number is growing.
Frighteningly, the transmission of CRE from individual-to-individual can occur without any party showing symptoms, scientific researchers at Harvard.
William Hanage, the senior author of the study and associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard explained: “We often talk about the rising tide of antibiotic resistance in apocalyptic terms…But we should always remember that the people who are most at risk of these things would be at risk for any infection, because they are often among the more vulnerable people in the healthcare system.”
With apocalyptic talks of growing superbugs such as CRE, it is natural to feel defenseless, no pun intended. However, there is something that we all can do to break the chain of any kind of infection.
Hand hygiene and environmental sanitation are essential to preventing the spread of superbugs. According to Dr. Kallen, a medical officer in the CDC's Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, you need to, “make sure people are washing their hands when caring for you. Make sure they are cleaning the equipment.”
Especially for outbreaks such as CRE, the CDC recommends that the best way to reduce the number of microbes on your hands is to wash with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, one can use an alcohol-based sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.