Defense Against Superbug

Meet the new Superbugs. Guess who’s helping them into your body? You—if you’re one of those inveterate pill-poppers who swallow antibiotics for the smallest ailment, chasing a quick cure. In the process, you’re helping create bugs that are resistant to those very antibiotics the doctor will prescribe when you actually need them. And your body will have to fight much, much harder to conquer those Superbugs. Careless use of antibiotics is promoting new strains of harmful bacteria that develop immunity. These are the Superbugs that threaten our lives today.

Antibiotics were seen as miracle drugs designed to kill bacteria. Not anymore. Down antibioticthe years, reckless overuse—and under use—of antibiotics have helped bacteria develop immunity to powerful drugs, making them difficult and sometimes impossible to treat.

You could be their victim. Even more likely, you have fallen prey to self medication or casual advice from the chemist, taking antibiotics when you could have just lived with that cold for a week—which, by the way, you will have to do even with the antibiotics.

Worse, many people decide just to stop the antibiotics when they feel better, without completing the prescribed course. They end up helping bacteria to learn how to survive. When the antibiotic is taken again, the bacteria are armed to beat it.

What hospitals can do

» Have better infection control

» Strengthen laboratory facilities

» Not use antibiotics unnecessarily

» Teach medical students the right use of antibiotics

What doctors can do

» Stop treating trivial infections with new drugs

» Rotate antibiotics. Not being used for some years may help some become effective again

What government can do?

» Formulate a national antibiotic policy

» Develop fundamental research

» Penalize doctors who get lured by incentives while prescribing medicines

» Ban the sale of over-the-counter drugs without generic names on doctors’ prescriptions

It’s possible to say “No”

Scientists at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, US, say over prescription and misuse of antibiotic drugs is the main sources of the resistance that Superbugs develop to medicine. They estimate that up to half of the roughly 100 million prescriptions for antibiotics written each year in the United States are unnecessary!

Indestructible germs

Trouble is, Superbugs are getting increasingly tougher to exterminate. Even the World Health Organization acknowledges that the level of resistance to drugs used respiratory diseasesto treat common infectious diseases is reaching a crisis-point.

For instance, bacteria are warding off the impact of last century’s wonder drug, penicillin, used to treat pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis. The bacteria causing such diseases, like Streptococcus pneumonia and Homophiles influenza, are now battling penicillin. The mortality rate of patients suffering from severe pneumonia ranges from 3 to 5%. But more shocking is the mortality rate due to meningitis—between 35 and 50%.

But many patients stop taking the expensive drugs once they feel better and so the TB bacteria develop immunity. Also threatening you are Superbugs showing up in the form of gastrointestinal infections, respiratory diseases and malaria, besides tuberculosis.

The danger is real. Superbugs are rendering many drugs redundant, and look set to alter the course of medical history. It’s crucial to be able to recognize the warning signs of a Superbug infection, or even better prevent one. This is the one big challenge before doctors and drug companies today.

Skip anti-bacterial soap. Household soaps and other products with anti-bacterial chemicals don’t prevent infection any better than products without them, studies show. Worse, some experts worry that they may promote drug resistance. There’s no proof yet that they do, but why take the risk when they haven’t been shown to be any more effective? Studies show that when someone is sick in a household, classroom or workplace, using a gel (between hand washings) reduces the spread of disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Be sure to choose a product containing 60 to 95% alcohol. Use a generous gob— enough so that hands still feel damp after rubbing them together for 20 seconds.


On their part, scientists are trying to develop new bacteria-fighting drugs, but that process takes decades. In the meantime, we have to defend ourselves. It’s crucial to be able to recognize the warning signs of a Superbug infection, or, even better, prevent one

Here’s how to protect yourself from three of the most common ways in which Superbugs can attack you:

Toxic Stomach Bug

Clostridium difficile: causes toxins in the intestines.

Prevent It » Don’t badger your doctor for unnecessary antibiotics. Remember: Antibiotics don’t work against viral infections such as colds or flu.

» Ask about alternatives if your doctor suggests long-term antibiotics for a chronic bacterial infection such as acne.

» Avoid broad-spectrum antibiotics, if possible, when an illness requires an antibiotic. The broad-spectrum antibiotics most associated with C. difficile infection are clindamycin (Cleocin), and the fluoroquinolones (Ciplox, Gatiflox and Ofloxacin)

» Consider upping your intake of “friendly” bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Bifid bacterium.

Treat It

» Avoid antibiotics for minor stomach problems. Contact your doctor if you have diarrhea or cramping and gas that last longer than a few days, and avoid anti-diarrhea remedies, which can prevent your body from expelling C difficile’s tissue-damaging toxins.

MRSA: A virulent variety of staph bacteria: produces toxins in the lungs.

Prevent It

» Wash cuts and scrapes thoroughly with soap and water.

» Don’t share personal items such as towels and razors, and just in case you have a scratch that would offer entry to MRSA, always keep your clothing or a towel between your skin and any shared surfaces. When using public toilets wipe the seat with toilet paper.

» Get vaccinated against the flu—the disease clearly raises the risk of the most severe kind of staph infections.

Treat It

» Don’t ignore an infected wound or a pus-filled boil. MRSA skin infections tend to be very red, swollen and painful. Ask your doctor to consider the possibility of MRSA. Getting the right antibiotic is critical.

» Be particularly vigilant about any chest cold or flu that takes a sudden turn for the worse, or a fever that spikes over 102°F.

Food poisoning

Salmonella and campylobacter are food borne bugs: turn out vicious toxins. They are resistant to many drugs. Prevent It

Superbug infection» Be scrupulous about washing hands after touching raw meat or eggs, and cook these foods thoroughly.

» Use hot, soapy water to wash chopping boards and other kitchen surfaces that come in contact with raw meat or eggs.

» Rinse everything—even veggies and fruits with a thick rind, such as watermelon— with a strong spray of water. If vegetables are contaminated by irrigation water, cook them thoroughly to destroy the germs.

» Wash your hands after handling pet or farm animals, which can spread Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria that can cause food poisoning and severe diarrhea.

» Make sure you wash your kitchen sponges and dishrags in hot water, every day.

Treat It

» See a doctor for severe gastrointestinal distress that lasts more than a couple of days, especially if accompanied by fever. If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, call back if symptoms worsen or don’t get better within 24 hours.