Protecting yourself against 'superbugs'
SUMMARY: Superbugs like C. diff have become increasingly common in hospitals. Discover how to keep this harmful type of bacteria at bay.
Posted: March 10, 2014
As antibiotics become more prevalent, so do "superbug" infections. Superbugs, or bacteria resistant to the strongest antibiotics, have been spreading in hospitals, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. To keep them at bay, maintaining good overall and oral health for kids as well as adults is key.
The bacteria carry genes that allow them to survive exposure to the antibiotics doctors currently prescribe. This means that infections become harder to treat, though they are not necessarily more infectious or severe. In short, these type of superbugs no longer respond to oral antibiotics.
When antibiotics are used for issues other than bacterial infections, like the flu, or not taken as the doctor prescribed, their effectiveness starts to wear off for future bacterial infections and can possibly develop resistance genes. Oftentimes, patients who spend a number of days in the hospital are more likely to come down with these infections since they take more antibiotics.
More than 2 million Americans become sick each year by antibiotic-resistant infections, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Among the most common problems induced by the superbug is C. difficile, a toxic bacteria that causes severe diarrhea. Each year about 250,000 hospitalized Americans develop C. diff infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"Antibiotics destroy good bacteria that protect us from infection, leaving the door open for C. diff to take over," Clifford McDonald, the C. diff expert at the CDC, told WebMD. "If people swallow C. diff spores during this time of vulnerability, they can become infected."
Steering clear of C. diff infections
It's no secret that oral and overall hygiene are connected. Washing your hands frequently, thinking twice before touching your mouth or eyes and keeping your mouth free of germs can help protect against C. diff infections. Often a dirty mouth shows itself in the form of long-lasting halitosis. Simple brushings and cleanings can knock that problem out.
When a person is at the hospital, there's a common misconception that their health is placed entirely in the hands of professionals. But a lot do with his or her habits. Keep hospital infections at bay by avoiding touching your mouth, and if you can, don't set food utensils on bed sheets or furniture, since C. diff. can live on surfaces for several days. Make sure to wash your hands with soap and water before putting them in contact with your mouth, eyes and nose. Besides C. diff, other resistant bacteria include salmonella and CRE, or carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae.
Many people take antibiotics 1 to 2 hours before surgery to help prevent infection. Ask your health professional if this is necessary, but don't worry if you don't need one - it might help. Your risk of C. diff. infection increase 7- to 10-fold while you are taking antibiotics, and for a month later. Afterward, you're still three times more likely to get the bug during the second and third month. Ironically, once you are diagnosed with C. diff, antibiotic treatment is common.
Even President Obama has joined the ranks in fighting this nasty infection. He recently proposed to increase the budget by $30 million annually for the next five years to detect and prevent superbugs. Warding off antibiotic-resistant bacteria could cut in half the number of hospital-acquired infections from C. difficile, prevent 150,000 hospitalizations and save 20,000 lives. What's more, scientists have urged Congress to pass tax credits to spur research and development of new antibiotics.
Misuse in hospitals
The overuse and misuse of antibiotics contributes to the formation of these superbugs. More than 50 percent of antibiotics are unnecessarily given to people with infections caused by viruses such as the flu and colds. To tackle the flu at home, get plenty of sleep, drink lots of fluids and stay as clean as possible. That includes brushing your teeth to battle off all types of bacteria, including foreign, or the ones that cause illness, and body-produced, the ones that cause bad breath. Some doctors may be putting patients at risk for infection because of frequent prescription of antibiotics. More than one-half of patients receive at least one before being discharged, according to a report from the CDC.
At the heart of the problem is this: Though antibiotics can be life-saving, using them too frequently encourages the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Lower your chances of coming down with the infection by exercising daily overall and oral hygiene.