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Superbugs vs. Ebola

There’s an infection that kills at least 23,000 nationwide and is active in the U.S. that we should be worried about – strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as superbugs.2 These superbugs include diseases like MRSA, the infection everyone was freaking out about a couple of years ago, and CRE, which killed 7 patients in 2011 at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.3

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this year’s Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been one of the largest Ebola outbreaks in history.1  Although the death toll has surpassed 1,550 in Africa, it is not a risk for those in the United States, unlike superbugs, which are becoming more and more prevelant.1

What’s the big deal?

They’re not called “superbugs” just for kicks. The thing about superbugs like CRE is that they are antibiotic-resistant, which means the drugs health care professionals would usually use to fight these bacteria won’t work. In fact, CRE has a high death rate, with about half of the people who catch it ending up dying.3  On top of that, the amount of people catching superbugs has increased over the last 10 years, from 1% to 4%, along with 42 CRE infections being reported in medical facilities in 42 states during the last 10 years.4  So not only are more people being infected, but it is being found in more and more places.

The scariest thing about superbugs is that you are most likely to catch them in what should be the most sanitary place on earth – the hospital. Right now, you will probably only catch CRE in a hospital or nursing home, but the fear is that the infection could spread to places outside of the hospital if health care professionals do not take the necessary precautions.3  That is what happened with MRSA, and if we are not careful, we could have another outbreak on our hands.

How did the bugs become “super”?

The overuse of antibiotics is the driving factor behind the creation of superbugs.3 When doctors prescribe antibiotics when they aren’t really necessary, it can cause regular bacteria to develop genes that are resistant to drugs.3 Some bacteria can mix and match genes, so that they can eventually build up a truckload of genes that are resistant to lots of different antibiotics – making them superbugs.3

Another problem is the overuse of antibiotics in animals. According to statistics from the Food and Drug Administration, as much as 80% of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are fed to animals.4  Giving antibiotics to animals to promote growth or prevent disease is thought to have a part in the drugs losing their effectiveness.4

How does it compare to Ebola?

Ebola is more of a problem in Africa than it is in the U.S., but it is still a big problem. News reports are stating that the virus is “spiraling out of control” and the Red Cross is reported to be zipping up about 50 body bags a day.1 So, the Ebola outbreak could easily surpass the superbug death toll if things continue the way they have.

The virus spreads from direct contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids, objects that have been contaminated with body fluids, and infected animals.5 Some symptoms include fever, severe headache, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and lack of appetite.5

Like superbugs, Ebola is can spread quickly in healthcare settings like hospitals and clinics if staff do not take the necessary precautions.5

Though there are Americans volunteering with the Ebola problem overseas, it is still not likely to become a danger here. But if antibiotic use in the U.S. continues at the rate it is going now, superbugs like CRE can spiral out of control as well.

Superbug Kryptonite

You can help stop the spread of any infection, including superbugs, by washing your hands with plain soap and warm water more often.

Another fear of the health community is that more harmful bacteria will become antibiotic-resistant over time, which would be like going back to the times when antibiotics did not exist – rampant infections and no way to cure them.3 But don’t worry! There are steps we can take to help stop that from happening, including the support of laws to stop the use of antibiotics to fatten up the animals we eat.

Since you are more likely to catch a superbug in a hospital or nursing home when you are already in a weakened health state, not many of us have to worry about superbugs on a daily basis.2 But if you do find yourself admitted to a hospital, don’t be afraid to speak up. Hand washing is still one of the top ways to fight infections, so making sure your doctor washes his or her hands is a good idea.3 Some hospitals are required to state whether they have had antibiotic-resistant cases in their facility, so be sure to look that up on the internet, if available.Also, make sure to use antibiotics as directed and try not to insist on antibiotic use if your doctor advises otherwise.2  Talk to your doctor about the use of alternatives to treat your infections.  At our Health Center, we find ways to strengthen the immune system to keep antibiotic use to a minimum. Look out for symptoms after a hospital visit, such as bowel gas, or worsening of digestion.3 At the very least, we can all prevent the spread of germs so that antibiotic use won’t be as necessary in the first place.2  Just plain soap and warm water will do fine, as chemicals in antibacterial soaps have been found to increase the prevalence of superbugs.6  Taking these simple steps could go a long way in stopping superbugs from taking  over.

  1. http://www.mb.com.ph/ebola-death-toll-rise-to-2100-red-cross-zips-50-bodies-a-day/
  2. http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/issue/feb2014/feature1
  3. http://www.npr.org/2013/03/07/173733687/how-to-track-and-attack-a-superbug
  4. http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/feeding-antibiotics-to-cows-is-bad-for-humans-but-congress-wont-stop-it-new-report-says/2013/10/22/ecd2de08-3afd-11e3-a94f-b58017bfee6c_story.html
  5. http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/
  6. http://www.care2.com/greenliving/how-antibacterial-soaps-harm-our-health-the-environment.html

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