Can we defeat the Superbugs?

Not this kind of superbug.

According to the Center for Disease Control, antibiotic resistance is when bacteria mutate and become less effected by drugs and chemicals us humans use to fight infections. It is a major public health problem. After years of exposure to antibiotics, due to their prominence in everything from hand soap to cow food, antibiotic resistance is on the rise leading the media to call attention to the threat of superbugs.

Now this is all obviously extremely terrifying. Antibiotics are our biggest line of defense against a wide variety of bacterial infections. With a growing number of strains of bacteria slowly becoming resistant to antibiotics, once easily treated diseases can become far more difficult to deal with.

This is what E coli looks like. Lovely.

For example, as recently as this year the Washington Post reports that an antibiotic resistant strain of E coli has entered the United States. A 49 year old woman in Pennsylvania was found to have a strain of E coli that the Department of Defense determined was resistant to colistin- an antibiotic of last resort. Essentially, colistin is one of the most powerful antibiotics we have left and if an infection becomes immune to it, we have nothing left to fight it. This is a problem.

Antibiotics, obviously.

What is the solution? The CDC’s website lays out several guidelines to prevent further antibiotic resistance. Among them, use your antibiotics for the prescribed time instead of quitting as soon as you feel better, ask your healthcare professional if antibiotics are necessary for fighting your infection and providing symptom relief, and never save antibiotics for when you get sick again. Medical professionals are also encouraged to use antibiotics more sparingly, farmers are encouraged to remove them from their feed as it is unnecessary and overkill, and finally the FDA recently decided that some antibacterial agents have to be removed from hand soap. All in all, it is not a disaster yet, but in the next few years it’ll be interesting to see if we can develop other weapons and become less reliant on antibiotics- the fossil fuels of healthcare.

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