The Rise of Superbugs: Are We at Risk?

Leading health organizations are keeping a close eye on the rise of “superbugs” or “super bacteria”, a public health crisis that impacts two million people in the U.S each year.

Dr. Joseph Mosquera,  bilingual health expert for Consumer Reports was recently joined by Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) and other health professionals, in a live Twitter chat, discussing what causes superbugs and how to stop them.

What are superbugs?

The makings of superbugs lie in their resistance to antibiotics. The drugs have been widely used for so long, the infectious organisms they are made to kill have instead adapted to them. Meaning, the drugs are less effective, according to the CDC.

The overuse of antibiotics by doctors, dentists and hospitals also contributes to the creation of superbugs, Dr. Mosquera explained.

What we’re eating could also be part of the problem.

“Eighty percent of all antibiotics are used in our food supply to treat agriculture and livestock. Many health professionals are concerned we are acquiring a resistance to bacteria by ingesting these treated foods,” says Dr. Mosquera. He suggests reading your food labels for warnings along with cooking and storing your food appropriately.

Hospitals are also not safe from superbugs and, in fact, can harbor them.

In 2013, the CDC published a report outlining the top 18 drug-resistant threats to the United States.

One of the most concerning for the agency was carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae or CRE, which is on the rise among patients in medical facilities and almost half of patients who get bloodstream infections from the superbug die from the infection, according to the CDC.

In total, 37,000 people die from superbugs each year. It’s an issue even the White House is turning its attention to.

Stopping superbugs, however, it’s also ultimately up to us.

“Bacteria and antibiotics, both can heal or harm a person. It’s important to know the differences,” explains Dr. Mosquera.  

8 Tips to Protect Yourself and Family from Superbugs

Here is a list of 8 tips to help protect your family and your community from superbugs.

1. Don’t Panic

Everyone may be at risk, but the chances of catching a drug-resistant bug outside of the hospital or clinic are very small. Stress is not healthy,so don’t panic.

2. Know What to Look For

How do you know if you have a superbug? The infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria do not cause different symptoms than infections caused by antibiotic-susceptible infections. If you are worried about such an infection, contact your primary-care doctor first.

3. Wash Your Hands With Soap. Seriously!

Doctors say they cannot recommend this enough. 15 seconds washing your hands will do the trick. And make sure to turn off the faucet using a paper towel. Alcohol-based hand-sanitizers are handy too, but remember that one bug, C.Diff, is resistant to that, unlike just soap and water.

4. Proceed carefully with Antibacterial Soap

The FDA has made no formal decision on whether antibacterial soaps are more effective than regular soap, and some doctors don’t recommend using them.

5. Ask Your Doctors to Wash Their Hands

Just do it!

6. Get A Flu Shot Annually

When people come down with the flu, they increase their risk as they recover, complicating bacterial infections  because their weakened immune system is more vulnerable to other bugs.

7. Ask If You Really Need that Antibiotic

Antibiotic overprescribing is a particular problem in primary care, where viruses cause most infections. About 90% of all antibiotic prescriptions are issued by general practitioners, and respiratory tract infections are the leading reason for prescribing, according to a 2014 report by Cardiff University supported by the NIH.

8. Speak Out for Your Loved Ones in the Hospital

One of the ways drug-resistant bacteria spreads in hospital is through tubes inserted in the body, such as catheters. Never be afraid to address nurses or physicians on whether the possible bacteria-carrying equipment is necessary, and when the tubes can come out, and how often it is sanitized.

To learn more on how to protect yourself, take a look at Dr. Mosquera’s Twitter chat on superbugs by clicking here.