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Emerging Threats – Superbugs

The word “Superbug” may call to mind dramatic movies like Contagion, which have “end of humanity” plotlines. But in actuality, the idea of antibiotic resistant bacteria is already a very real threat.

There has been a lot of hype in the media about Superbugs, but what are these microscopic dangers? They are a classification of bacteria which are extremely resistant to antibiotics and other antimicrobial agents, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium Difficile (C-DIFF). Since the 1940s, antibiotics have greatly reduced illness and death from infectious diseases. But their overuse has caused the bacteria they were designed to kill to adapt to the drug, thus making the medication less effective. Each year in the United States, at least two million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a result of these infections.

In 2015, some 32 people were sickened at a Seattle hospital over a two-year period by a drug-resistant superbug, Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae or CRE. Although all were critically ill prior to being infected, 11 of those infected eventually passed away from the infection. Doctors identified this bacterium after months of investigation, eventually identifying the hazard through its symptoms: pneumonia, bloodstream infections and meningitis. The infected patients had been treated using endoscopes that were used and then sanitized, to treat liver and pancreatic illnesses. It is unclear what role the superbug may have played in their deaths.

Earlier this year, the Lancet published an article investigating a new emerging hypervirulent carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumonia strain which infected five patients in Hangzhou, China. All five patients had undergone surgery for multiple traumas and subsequently received mechanical ventilation. The patients were aged 53–73 years and were admitted to the intensive care unit. They all had severe pneumonia, carbapenem-resistant K pneumoniae infections and poor responses to antibiotic treatment and died due to severe lung infection, multi-organ failure or septic shock.

The easiest way to reduce your risk of a superbug infection is to wash your hands with soap and water. Other ways to prevent the risk of infections is to stay up to date with your vaccines, prevent the spread of foodborne infections, keep your water safe and prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. When you’re sick, use antibiotics the smart way. Antibiotics work only on bacterial infections; they will not help you recover quicker from flus or colds caused by viruses. Despite strict disinfection procedures used in hospitals, they are not fool-proof. Therefore, stay away from them, if possible, as they are repositories of every in-patients’ germs. If you are in a hospital, ask all health care providers to wash their hands before touching you. Know the signs and symptoms of an infection, including redness, pain or drainage.

Questions about drug-resistant bacteria or other public health issues? Contact the experts at Cogency at solutions@cogencyteam.com.  Cogency is best suited to assist you with this and other potential biological or toxicological contamination issues because our team of physicians and public health professionals conduct extensive risk assessment, outbreak investigations and causation analyses. Cogency has vast experience diagnosing hard to detect environmental issues, and peculiar illnesses possibly related to bacterial, fungal or toxicological exposures.

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