Superbugs are no heroes. They are bacteria which have learned to decipher how to resist the antibiotic's effects. These bugs which previously had only one mechanism for fighting off an antibiotic have now developed multiple mechanisms for resistance. These mechanisms include developing cell walls that don't allow the antibiotic to penetrate the bacteria, pumps that quickly push out the antibiotic from the cell, and enzymes that deactivate the antibiotic. Superbugs can also exchange their survival information with other bacteria.
These bugs have been emerging for many years, and the movement has been spreading in the US and globally. Initially they were first noted in hospitals but now they have reached the community and have been detected in workplaces, gyms, and schools. Antibiotic overuse as well as misuse has been a major contributor to the emergence of these organisms. Some of these bacteria which have become more of a concern include methicillin-resistant staph aureus (MRSA), clostridium difficile (C. diff) , and gonorrhea.
Please keep these recommendations from the Mayo Clinic in mind to curb the expansion of this growing problem.
Understand when antibiotics should be used.
Don't expect to take antibiotics every time you're sick. Antibiotics are effective in treating most bacterial infections, but they're not useful against viral infections, such as colds or the flu. Each year in the United States, doctors write an estimated 50 million antibiotic prescriptions for viral illnesses for which antibiotics offer no benefit. And even some common bacterial ailments, such as bronchitis, don't respond well to antibiotics.
Take antibiotics exactly as prescribed.
Follow your doctor's instructions when taking prescribed medication, including how many times a day and for how long. Avoid stopping treatment a few days early if you start feeling better — a complete course of antibiotics is needed to kill all of the harmful bacteria. A shortened course of antibiotics, on the other hand, often wipes out only the most vulnerable bacteria, while allowing relatively resistant bacteria to survive.
Never take antibiotics without a prescription.
If you didn't complete a full course of antibiotics, you might be tempted to use the leftover medication the next time you get sick or to pass it along to someone else. But this is never a good idea. For one thing, the antibiotic might not be appropriate for your own or another person's illness. And even if it is, you're not likely to have enough pills to combat the germs making you sick, which can lead to more resistant bacteria.
Don't pressure your doctor for antibiotics if you have a viral illness.
Instead, talk with your doctor about ways to relieve the symptoms of your viral illness — a saline nasal spray to clear a stuffy nose, for instance, or a mixture of warm water, lemon and honey to temporarily soothe a sore throat.
Protect yourself from infection in the first place.
You can keep many germs at bay by adopting preventive habits, such as washing your hands thoroughly and often, handling and preparing food safely, and keeping up-to-date on immunizations.
Image courtesy of: invertebrates and microbes.