Part 1: “Superbugs”
What are these “Superbugs” that are talked about in the news?
“Superbug” is a term that had been coined by the media to describe germs that are resistant to the usual antibiotics. The germ that has gotten the most press recently is MRSA which stands for Methcillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus. This germ has recently caused serious problems with skin related infections.
How do germs become resistant to antibiotics?
When a germ is exposed to an antibiotic, it can “learn” how to become resistant to these antibiotics. Then, each daughter germ is also resistant. Since the resistant germs are more difficult to kill, they proliferate more easily than those that are “sensitive” to common antibiotics
What kind of problems can these drug-resistant germs cause?
germs are resistant to one or two antibiotics. The major problems
arise when a germ is resistant to so many antibiotics that it is
difficult to find an effective antibiotic to kill it. Drug resistant
germs can cause any type of infection from pneumonia to meningitis to TB
What should I do if I get an infection?
you are concerned that you have an infection, you should see your
doctor. You doctor may be able to diagnose and treat your problem based
on your history and exam. Alternatively, your doctor may take samples
of the infection to have it cultured and tested against various
antibiotics to determine which antibiotic will be effective.
How contagious are these germs?
germs are spread in different ways. The MRSA germ that causes skin
infections is predominantly spread with direct contact.
What can I do to protect myself from becoming infected?
hand washing is important in avoiding the spread of any infection.
Again, for the MRSA skin infections that have been getting so much
recent attention, you must also avoid sharing personal care products and
be careful to clean and monitor any open wounds, cuts and scrapes and
keep them covered with a bandage if possible.
I don’t have an infection right now but should I be tested?
We are all “colonized” with germs that we usually live in harmony with. These germs do not usually cause disease. For this reason, screening or testing for “superbugs” is not usually recommended. If you have special concerns in this regard, you should see your doctor. If there is any additional question, they may refer you to an Infectious Disease Specialist.
Prevent the Spread of Infection
By Geeta Khare, M.D.
Last month, we discussed the phenomenon of “superbugs”. These are germs that cause infections that are particularly challenging to treat. The next logical question is how to prevent the spread of infection.
What is the best way to keep from getting a cold?
being around people who have a cold. Most cold virus is released from
the body in the first three days of a cold. If you cannot avoid the
person with a cold, you should wash your hands frequently and avoid
close contact. If you have a problem with your immune system, you may
want to avoid crowds or large gatherings. Since you may not know who
around you has a cold and may be infectious, frequent hand washing is
important at all times.
Is there a special way to wash my hands?
The key is to wash your hands with soap and running water. It is important to do this for a fifteen to twenty seconds--as long as it takes to sing the ABC song or the“Row, row, row your boat”song.
What about the daycare environment?
Children in daycare are at particular risk for getting colds as well as more serious infections. Ask your daycare provider what their hand washing policy is. Children and caregivers should be washing their hands several times a day, not just before eating or after the bathroom. Also, make sure the daycare strictly enforces their “sick child” policy.
Do hand sanitizers really work?
they do. However, only those that are greater than 60% alcohol are
effective. In fact, in one study, a 40% alcohol based sanitizer
actually made the situation WORSE!
What about food preparation?
When it comes to food preparation, there are some special considerations. Wash your hands before and after preparing food. Don’t put a spoon that you just tasted off of back in the food. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Be particularly careful with meat and meat juices—especially poultry. Wash raw foods thoroughly. Don’t eat undercooked foods—especially meat. Promptly refrigerate leftovers.
Are there any additional precautions I can take to prevent the spread of infection?
Use antibiotics wisely. Keep immunizations up to date. Use safe sexual practices. Don’t share personal care items. Don’t use I.V. drugs. If you use I.V. drugs, definitely don’t share needles. Travel wisely. Keep your pets healthy. Don’t touch someone else’s open sores or infected wounds. Don’t go out if you have signs and symptoms of infection—be kind, don’t infect others. If you have an infection and you cannot avoid being around others, wash your own hands frequently, have others do the same and keep your distance as much as possible.
The Dark Side of Germophobia: 4 negative consequences.
After the last two columns on fighting germs, the next question whether there can be too much of a good thing. The answer is “yes”. Real health lies in having a balanced approach. This includes the balance between being “too clean” and living in harmony with “good germs” There are four negative consequences of the germophobic lifestyle.
Superbugs—as we discussed before, the emergence of “superbugs” such as MRSA is a direct consequence of antibiotic overuse. As germs get exposed to antibacterials, they “learn” how to develop resistance to those antibiotics.
Drug Allergy—the more your immune
system is exposed to antibiotics, the more likely you are to develop an
allergy to that antibiotic. In fact when comparing how often we
Americans develop medication allergies compared with countries in which
antibiotics are used much less, we have more problems. We have more
allergic reactions to antibiotics and this appears to be directly
related to the fact that we use them much more frequently.
Hygiene Hypothesis—Allergic illnesses are on the rise. If you study allergies in industrialized or “advanced” countries, there appears to be more of a problem for us than in developing countries. Though there are many possible causes, one of the explanations for this is our “clean” lifestyle. We may be shifting our immune systems away from dealing with day-to-day germs and toward developing allergies.
Bacterial/Fungal Overgrowth—whenever you use antibiotics to kill germs, you kill some of the “good” bacteria that normally live on your body. We are all colonized with bacteria. They help us digest our food; they compete with pathogenic (bad) bacteria, and help with vitamin absorption. When we take antibiotics, we kill not only the “bad” germs, but some of the “good” germs get eliminated too. This can lead to the overgrowth of other (even worse) germs causing such illnesses as thrush, pseudo membranous colitis, and other conditions.
So the bottom line is that though we want to be careful not to expose ourselves to unnecessary infections, we don’t want to go overboard with our germophobia.