There has recently been a lot of talk about superbugs. Superbugs are bacteria that cannot be killed by a lot of our currently available antibiotics. This is also known as antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance can occur in many different ways. Some bacteria are naturally resistant to antibiotics, while others become resistant over time. If a bacterium is resistant to an antibiotic, it means that the antibiotic is no longer effective. Superbugs have very few (if any) antibiotics that can kill them.
Patients who are infected with superbugs are more likely to die because there are no effective antibiotics. In the United States, antibiotic resistance causes over 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses each year. This number will only rise if nothing is done!
Resistance has become a problem, mainly due to antibiotic overuse. Bacteria are smart. If we try to use an antibiotic to kill bacteria, the bacteria will learn how to resist the antibiotic’s effects. This includes both the good and bad bacteria in and on our bodies. Consequently, the more antibiotics we use the more resistant organisms we create.
Often, antibiotics are necessary. However, studies have shown that 30-50% of antibiotic use is not appropriate. That means, we are creating more superbugs and causing more harm than good.
The most common reasons why antibiotics are not appropriate is when they are being used for non-infectious causes, such as allergies, or infections caused by viruses, like the common cold. Antibiotics only work against bacteria.
Not only can unnecessary antibiotic use create superbugs, but it can also cause problems for the people taking antibiotics. For example, patients who take antibiotics will be at higher risk for side effects. Some side effects can be serious, including a life-threatening diarrhea infection caused by Clostridium difficile.
How can you help out? If possible, avoid antibiotic use! When visiting your doctor for an illness, ask if symptom relief medicine is enough. Do your part and help us prevent the development of superbugs!