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Lower your risk from superbugs like MRSA

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The lead article in the National Institute of Health (NIH) News in Health for Feb. 5, 2014 is about the dangers of superbugs and how to prevent their spread. Stop the Spread of Superbugs - Help Fight Drug-Resistant Bacteria.

Senator Sherrod Brown has sponsored bills in 2007 and 2013 that address the spread of antimicrobial resistant bacteria in hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions where many of the most serious antibiotic resistant bacteria occur and are spread. One of the major dangers of replacement and transplant surgeries is getting MRSA or other antibiotic resistant bacteria while getting the procedure. These bills have not been passed to date.

MRSA is an acronym for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus that resulted when methicillin, one of the most commonly used antibiotics to combat staph infections, became resistant to that specific drug. There are now several strains of bacteria that resist drug treatments. The staph bacteria have evolved to now be resistant to methicillin, amoxicillin, penicillin, oxacillin, and other classes of antibiotics.

Bacteria evolve in order to survive. Sometimes their survival results in the loss of a patient’s life. There is a constant battle to combat these bacteria, and part of the problem is caused by this “war on superbugs”. Hospitals and surgical centers use strong cleaning fluids to attempt to kill residual bacteria on equipment. If some bacteria survive, they can evolve to better resist sanitation procedures. Staff members in contact with patients may not follow hand washing and equipment sterilization procedures.

The use of antibiotics developed for humans as antimicrobial feed additives in meat production is another factor in the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Pork producers have used tetracycline for decades to attempt to prevent trichinosis. The FDA has now made weak attempts to get the most crucial antibiotics for humans restricted as additives in animal feeds.

The food supply is also one of the places that bacteria get spread. Poor sanitation or handling results in major outbreaks of salmonella and listeria bacteria poisoning. Listeria is a major concern for pregnant women and newborn or elderly patients. In the worst case, listeria causes sepsis (blood poisoning) and meningitis. New, more virulent strains of these bacteria have evolved and the mortality rates of the worst forms of these diseases are in the 10 to 30% range.

The NIH recommends the following steps for individuals to help reduce the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Blocking Harmful Bacteria

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • If you’re sick, make sure your doctor has a clear understanding of your symptoms. Discuss whether an antibiotic or a different type of treatment is appropriate for your illness.
  • If antibiotics are needed, take the full course exactly as directed. Don’t save the medicine for a future illness, and don’t share with others.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle—including proper diet, exercise, and good hygiene—to help prevent illness, thereby helping to prevent the overuse or misuse of medications.”

These same steps are advised for those individuals working in health care facilities. From the NIH article, this is part of the discussion regarding MRSA.

“A MRSA skin infection can appear as one or more pimples or boils that are swollen, painful, or hot to the touch. The infection can spread through even a tiny cut or scrape that comes into contact with these bacteria. Many people recover from MRSA infections, but some cases can be life-threatening. The CDC estimates that more than 80,000 aggressive MRSA infections and 11,000 related deaths occur each year in the United States."

The World Health Organization has put out a fact sheet regarding antibiotic resistant bacteria. On a global basis resistance to malaria, tuberculosis and bacteria present with HIV compromised patients represent additional threats beyond MRSA and similar antibiotic resistant bacteria.

The best advice includes wash your hands, cover your cough, and stay healthy. Good overall health is the best preventative approach to avoiding antibiotic resistant bacteria in the general environment, and it will help keep you out of the hospitals and nursing homes that represent a major opportunity to contact one of these superbugs.

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