THE term ‘superbug’ is used to describe strains of bacteria that are resistant to the majority of antibiotics commonly used today.
Here’s more about how to protect yourself from them and where they are predominantly found.
What is a superbug?
A superbug is a strain of bacteria that has become resistant to antibiotics.
Some of these resistant bacteria include those that cause pneumonia, urinary tract infections and skin infections.
The term superbug was coined by the media – but doctors actually prefer to call them “multidrug-resistant bacteria.”
The terms refer to bacteria that can’t be treated using two or more types of antibiotic.
Antibiotic resistance is a naturally occurring phenomenon that can be slowed, but unfortunately it cannot be stopped.
Over time, bacteria adapt to the drugs that are designed to kill them and start evolving to ensure their survival.
This makes previously standard treatments for bacterial infections less effective, and in some cases, ineffective.
Certain actions may accelerate the emergence and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including but not limited to:
- Using or misusing antibiotics
- Having poor infection prevention and control practices
- Living or working in unsanitary conditions
- Mishandling food
How do you protect yourself from superbugs?
To protect yourself from harmful bacteria, you should wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Healthy lifestyle habits, such as eating a proper diet, proper food handling, getting enough exercise and establishing good sleeping patterns, also can minimize the risk of illness.
You can also help tackle antibiotic resistance by:
- Using antibiotics as directed and only when needed
- Completing the full treatment course even if you feel better
- Never sharing antibiotics with others
- Never using leftover prescriptions
- Avoid sharing personal items like towels and razors
Where are superbugs found?
There are many types of superbugs lurking in hospitals.
- Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
- Clostridium difficile (C.Diff)
- Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE)
- Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) and Carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae (CRKP)
- Necrotizing fasciitis, the flesh-eating bacterial disease
Infectious pathogens find easy access to the bloodstream of a patient with an open wound from an injury or surgery.
Once the germs enter the bloodstream, the patient is said to have sepsis or septicaemia.
Patients who are sick with another disease or condition may have a compromised immune system, making them too weak to fight off a superbug, even in a hospital environment.
The elderly are especially susceptible because their systems may already be fragile due to their age.
Resistant bacteria can also be found in food, and are spread in the environment through animal manure and contaminate produce like fruits and vegetables.
They can also be spread by eating contaminated food that has not been properly handled or cooked.
A 2018 study from the US found nearly 80 per cent of meat on supermarket shelves contained antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Superbugs are also found in people who have travelled to parts of South Asia and the Middle East where there are high rates of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
These travellers are likely to carry resistant gut bacteria called ESBL producing Enterobacteriaceae.
Enterobacteriaceae are bacteria such as E.coli and Klebsiella which everyone carries in their bowel harmlessly and with no symptoms.
However, they can occasionally get into the wrong part of the body and cause wounds, urinary tract, lung and bloodstream infections which can be deadly.
They are part of the gram negative family of bacteria known to be becoming much more resistant to antibiotics.
If the bacteria have ESBL genes they are resistant to two classes of antibiotics – penicillins and cephalosporins – normally used to treat these infections.
This forces doctors to turn to other drugs.
Once a person becomes colonised with these superbugs they remain in their gut for six months to a year.