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Antibiotic-resistant microbes on the prowl: What you should know

Watch out: What you can't see can hurt you
Watch out: What you can't see can hurt you #36513908

As an customer, every time I log on, I’m invited to check out a bunch of articles. The other day, this one caught my eye what with a photo of litte pinkish-white balls and the headline: “Drug-Resistant Superbug Increasing in Southeast U.S. Hospitals.”

Written by Robert Preidt, it went on to explain how the “highly contagious” bacteria known as Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, aka CRE, has increased five-fold in southeastern community hospitals and “is finding its way into health care facilities nationwide.” Turns out, too, it’s now resistant to all or nearly all the antibiotics available today.

It’s also very deadly.

And unfortunately, says the CDC, CRE isn’t the only bacteria, along with some viruses and fungi, that have morphed and become associated with drug resistance, such as …

  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae that causes the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea
  • Group B streptococcus that can cause such things as sepsis (blood infections), pneumonia, meningitis, and skin infections
  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) that causes a range of illnesses and is one of the most common causes of healthcare-associated infections
  • Neisseria meningitidis, one of the leading causes of bacterial meningitis in young people
  • The fungus Candida, the fourth most common cause of health-care associated bloodstream infections in the U.S.; in some hospitals, the most common.

Regrettably, the full list is a lot longer.

It seems that some bacteria come by this resistant status naturally through random mutation. The altered bacterium then lives on and reproduces, passing its new trait to its “young.” The result: a new generation of totally resistant offspring.

Adding to the problem, explains the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics (APUA): “Because bacteria can collect multiple resistance traits over time, they can become resistant to many different families of antibiotics.”

And we humans must take our fair share of the blame, what with …

  • Unnecessary prescriptions,
  • Patient misuse of antibiotics
  • The use of antibiotics in livestock feed to promote growth

Meanwhile, the outlook is not good. Take MRSA, for example. First discovered in 1961, it’s already “quite common” in hospitals, with 50% of all MRSA infections now resistant to penicillin, methicillin, tetracycline, and erythromycin.

Says CDC Director Tom, Friedan, “Anti-microbial [antibiotics and similar drugs] resistance has the potential to harm anyone in the country, undermine modern medicine, to devastate our economy, and to make our health care system less stable.”

It already costs $20 billion in health care spending annually.

But don’t expect docs to do all the heavy lifting here; it’s up to the rest of us, too:

  1. “Ask if tests will be done to make sure the right antibiotic is prescribed.
  2. Take antibiotics exactly as the doctor prescribes. Do not skip doses. Complete the prescribed course of treatment, even when you start feeling better.
  3. Only take antibiotics prescribed for you; do not share or use leftover antibiotics. Antibiotics treat specific types of infections. Taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment and allow bacteria to multiply.
  4. Do not save antibiotics for the next illness. Discard any leftover medication once the prescribed course of treatment is completed.
  5. Do not ask for antibiotics when your doctor thinks you do not need them. Remember, antibiotics have side effects.
  6. Prevent infections by practicing good hand hygiene and getting recommended vaccines.”

About #6 and the hand washing piece, take it seriously, singing the "Happy Birthday" song twice as you soap up. After all, germs abound on everything from escalator handrails, elevator buttons, and ATMs to shopping cart handles and playground equipment. The worst, though, is said to be the kitchen sink—yes, even worse than the bathroom. Follow-ups include the toilet bowl, along with garbage cans, refrigerators, and bathroom doorknobs.

And in case you need more germy facts to keep in mind should you ever decide careful hand washing is over-rated, remember:

  • A line of 1,000 germs can fit across the period at the end of this sentence.
  • A computer keyboard can have as many as 3,295 germs per square inch—400 times more than the number on the top of a public toilet seat.

And finally, did you know that hand shaking spreads more germs than kissing? Oh, yes!

Researchers at Prifysgol Aberystwyth University in Wales had sterile glove-wearing volunteers dunk their hands into “a soup of defanged Escherichia coli bacteria.” What they found was that, on average, 124 million colony-forming units of E. coli were transferred during just one handshake—twice as many as high fives and about twenty times more than fist bumps. Bottom line: Go with fist bumps, not because they’re cooler, but because they’re smarter.

So now that you know, be on guard and do what’s right.

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