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Battling drug-resistant superbugs in hospitals

Battling drug-resistant superbugs in hospitals

Picture of Elizabeth  Marigliano

Discovered almost a century ago, antibiotics have arguably been the biggest and most important breakthrough in medical science. They excel at destroying or controlling dangerous bacteria that can wreak havoc on the human organism. That being said, antibiotics have been fighting an uphill battle in recent decades, and have in effect become victims of their own success. The way in which antibiotics have been over utilized has resulted in the appearance of new drug-resistant bacteria, known simply as “superbugs.”

What are superbugs?

When prescribed properly, antibiotics prevent diseases and are highly effective against bacterial infections such as pneumonia, ear infections, diarrheal diseases, strep throat and numerous others. The problem occurs when antibiotics are overprescribed, or even worse, prescribed when not necessary. It is not uncommon for them to be given for ailments such as the common cold, which is absurd as antibiotics have no effect at all on viruses. Taking antibiotics in such a way can lead to the destruction of “good” bacteria that helps to fight infection, digest food and, in general, stay healthy. On the other hand, the bacteria that is resilient enough to survive the antibiotic multiplies and thrives without other bacteria to compete with for sustenance. We are now at a stage where some bacterial infections that have been treatable for decades no longer respond to antibiotics.

Superbugs in hospitals

Health care-associated infections, or HAIs, are the most frequent adverse event in health care worldwide. According to the World Healthcare Organization, seven of every hundred patients in developed countries will suffer from an HAI. In developing countries, this number is even higher at 10%. While America is doing a better job than most when it comes to preventing HAIs, both development and vigilance are needed in the fight against bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Patients are most at risk from superbugs during treatment in healthcare facilities for other conditions, and there are even cases of sepsis and death. One in seven surgery and catheter-related HAIs are caused by only six superbugs. This number increases to 1 in 4 when patients stay in the hospital for more than 25 days. In all, it is estimated that over 100,000 deaths occur every year in America from preventable medical mistakes.

Battling superbugs in hospitals

The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) is working hard to minimize superbug-related HAIs by releasing annual progress reports, as well as the Antibiotic Resistance Patient Safety Atlas; a web app that provides healthcare professionals with real-time interactive data on HAIs caused by superbugs. This and other such efforts have already yielded positive results. The incidence of central line- associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs) has halved since 2008, and surgical site infections (SSIs) have decreased by 17%. Hospitals and intensive care units are full of surfaces that are difficult or impossible to clean, and this is a great risk factor. Luckily, advances in decontamination technology have given the hospitals new weapons in the fight against superbugs. The video on the Acute Healthcare site shows computerized vaporizing machines capable of fully decontaminating any room in a matter of hours, resulting in a million-fold reduction in bacterial load that lasts up to six months.

This technology is particularly useful in neonatal care units, as one in three babies under 4 lb are likely to get bloodstream infections. Creating a fully sterile environment gives them a better chance of getting strong and healthy. However, not all methods of protection are high tech. By simply paying more attention to hygiene: washing hands more thoroughly and regularly and not wearing scrubs outside the hospital, medical workers can slow the spread of superbugs.

What you can do

Just as medical professionals, you can take steps to battle the spread of bacteria simply by practicing hygienic habits. Washing your hands with soap and water is a good first step, as is not sharing personal items such as razors, toothbrushes and towels. Another thing you should do is to take antibiotics only as directed, and opt for other treatments such as throat soothers, decongestants and or antihistamines any time antibiotics are avoidable. The same applies with antibiotic creams; use them sparingly as they too can lead to resistant bacteria.

[Photo Credit:NutritionFacts via YouTube.]

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