Drug-resistant superbug spreading in hospitals: study

A superbug resistant to all known antibiotics that can cause “severe” infections or even death is spreading undetected through hospital wards across the world, scientists in Australia warned.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne discovered three variants of the multidrug-resistant bug in samples from 10 countries, including strains in Europe that cannot be reliably tamed by any drug currently on the market.

Key facts:

The bacteria, known as Staphylococcus epidermidis, is related to the better-known and more deadly MRSA superbug.

It’s found naturally on human skin and most commonly infects the elderly or patients who have had prosthetic materials implanted, such as catheters and joint replacements.

It can be deadly, but it’s usually in patients who already are very sick in a hospital. It can be quite hard to eradicate and the infections can be severe.

Concerns: Some strains of the bug can make a small change in DNA that can lead to resistance to two of the most common antibiotics.

A superbug, also called multiresistant, is a bacterium that carries several resistance genes. These are resistant to multiple antibiotics and are able to survive even after exposure to one or more antibiotics.

What causes them to mutate like that?

Like any living organism, bacteria can mutate as they multiply. Also like any living organism, bacteria have a strong evolutionary drive to survive. So, over time, a select few will mutate in particular ways that make them resistant to antibiotics. Then, when antibiotics are introduced, only the bacteria that can resist that treatment can survive to multiply further, proliferating the line of drug-resistant bugs.

The discovery of antibiotics less than a century ago was a turning point in public health that has saved countless lives. Although antibiotic resistance develops naturally with normal bacterial mutation, humans are speeding it up by using antibiotics improperly. According to research, now, 2 million people a year in the US develop antibiotic-resistant infections, and 23,000 of them die of those infections.

Basically, superbugs are becoming more powerful and widespread than ever. Medical experts are afraid that we’re one step away from deadly, untreatable infections since the mcr-1 E.coli is resistant to that last-resort antibiotic Colistin. Antibiotic-resistance is passed relatively easily from one bacteria to the next since it is transmitted by way of loose genetic material that most bacteria have in common.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is afraid of a post-antibiotic world, where loads of bacteria are superbugs. Already, infections like tuberculosis, gonorrhea, and pneumonia are becoming harder to treat with typical antibiotics.

The first step would be to limit antibiotic use. If a patient has a virus, for instance, an antibiotic won’t work, so doctors shouldn’t prescribe antibiotics even if the patient insists. And when patients do need antibiotics, it’s important to make sure they take the full course to kill off every last infection-causing germ. Otherwise the strong survive, mutate, and spread. As a society, curbing antibiotic use in healthy animals used in human food production is another important step.

According to a few recent studies, nanotechnology holds the key to stopping antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the deadly infections they cause. Scientists have developed light-activated nanoparticles — each roughly 20,000 times smaller than the thickness of a single human hair and have shown in lab tests that these “quantum dots” are more than 90% effective at wiping out antibiotic-resistant germs like Salmonella, E. coli, and Staphylococcus. With the emergence of this Colistin-resistant E.coli, the medical community is going to be working harder and faster to contain superbugs and develop new treatments for infections.

The global community needs to urgently address the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in an actionable manner, and fast-track research on the next generation of drugs.

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