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What Are “Superbugs” and How Can We Beat Them?

Posted by David Cheatham, December 10, 2019

Lately, news outlets have frequently reported on the rising incidence of “superbugs”. These antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria have evolved to beat the drugs that were designed to stop them, and infection can mean serious illness or even death for the unlucky person to contract the illness.

The theory of evolution states that organisms attempt to adapt to challenges in their environment, therefore growing stronger and more capable of passing their genes to offspring. If a species is alive today, it is due to continual change over many generations which allowed it to survive. Whether a strain of bacteria or a more complex life form like primates, the process is essentially the same.

Some bacteria have evolved in response to a challenge, namely modern antibiotics. While antibiotics deserve a significant amount of credit for reducing deaths from common diseases like pneumonia, overuse of them has promoted the development of “superbugs” which are not so easily cured.

The CDC has identified five urgent superbug threats, and eleven others that constitute a “serious threat”. Superbugs infect about 2.8 million people worldwide each year, killing about 35,000.

Prevention of superbugs must rely upon reducing transmission of them in the first place. We can all take steps to protect one another, such as

  • washing hands regularly
  • staying home when you’re sick
  • wiping shopping carts and door handles before using them
  • covering your face when you cough or sneeze (and then washing your hands)
  • practicing safe food preparation techniques

Reducing transmission of disease is important, but we must also reduce the odds of a new bacteria mutating to overcome its challenges. Perhaps the most important preventive step you can take is to avoid using antibiotics when they are not clearly necessary.

The flu, many colds, and other illnesses originate from a virus rather than a bacteria. Talk to your doctor about whether antibiotics are warranted, and never use someone else’s antibiotics (or any other medication) to treat yourself at home.

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