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Why is Obama Scared of Superbugs?

6/22/2015 | By: Dr. R. Ben-Ami

The White House is gearing up to battle antibiotic resistant bacteria; Are you part of the problem?

Antibiotics are without a doubt one of the most significant discoveries in the history of science. So much so that it’s discovery awarded Alexander Fleming the Nobel Prize for his achievement. Nearly a century later scientists are voicing concern that we are nearing the post antibiotics era; a time in which antibiotics will no longer be effective. 
 
These concerns were headed by the White House, which has lost no time in convening hundreds of key individuals from the healthcare industry in order to promote more responsible use of antibiotics. As a part of this initiative, over 150 CEOs from the food and retail industry made commitments to making tangible changes that will slow the spread of superbugs and antibiotic resistant diseases.
 
What are these superbugs that defeat antibiotics? The definition applies to any bacteria that cannot be treated using a combination of two or more kinds of antibiotics. In fact, any bacteria may evolve into a superbug, and many times it’s our own fault. Misusing antibiotics, taking them when they aren’t really needed, discontinuing treatment before the end of the prescribed period and lengthy hospitalisations all raise the risk of contracting one of these superbugs. 
 
You might be wondering, why is Obama so worried? Recent statistics show that antibiotic resistant disease, also known as "superbugs", were responsible for 23,000 annual deaths in the US alone. 
 
Beyond the shocking numbers, superbugs should worry us all. Antibiotics are the fundamental building blocks of all modern medicine. Chemotherapy, complex surgeries, transplant procedures and even childbirth all rely on the ability to effectively stave off infections. Without antibiotics, much of the medical developments from the past 50 years would be lost or greatly compromised. 
 
It is always important to know your enemy, so the White House Taskforce has outlined a number of superbug examples that according to experts pose the largest threat.       

Urgent Threat: Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE)

What is it?
It's a family of bacteria normally found in your gut. But many types of CRE are resistant to all antibiotics, including carbapenem, which is usually the last resort medication.
 
How do you get it?
Healthy people usually don't get this type of infection. Most cases are among people who are in the hospital or a medical care facility, like a nursing home. The bacteria can be hard to remove from medical tools that are placed into the body, such as catheters, breathing tubes, or viewing scopes, even after cleaning.
 
Why is it a concern?
They can cause life-threatening blood infections with no effective antibiotic treatment available. Numbers show that near 50% of patients that contract this infection won’t survive.
 

Urgent Threat: Neisseria gonorrhoeae

What is it?
 This strain of bacteria causes gonorrhoea, a sexually transmitted disease.
 
How do you get it?
Anyone who has unprotected sex (without condom), including oral sex, can get this infection. It can be also passed from an infected mother to her baby during childbirth.
 
Why is it a concern? 
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people get gonorrhea. Some people do not have symptoms, meaning you can spread it without knowing. It used to be treatable with simple antibiotics (Penicillin), however the bacteria are becoming more resistant to current drugs. Untreated, gonorrhea can lead to infertility in men and women and increases risk of HIV and other STDs.
 

Urgent Threat: Clostridium difficile (C. diff)

What is it?
It's a type of bacteria that can live in your intestines. Usually, it's harmless. But some things can cause it to overgrow, triggering serious problems.
 
How do you get it?
Most people who get a C. diff infection are getting medical care. The biggest risk factor is, unbelievable, taking antibiotics. While antibiotics may cure the bacteria that are making you sick, the drugs can also knock out the healthy bacteria in your digestive tract enabling C. diff to take over.
 
Why is it a concern?
A C. diff infection can cause life-threatening diarrhea. About 14,000 people a year die from it, most of them older adults. 
Particles of the bacteria, called spores, can be left behind in bathrooms, on linens, or on clothing, and pass from person to person.

Serious Threat: Multidrug-Resistant Acinetobacter

What is it?
It is a bacteria found in soil and water, which can also live on your skin for days. It doesn't always make you sick. A superbug strain that doctors worry about is Acinetobacter baumannii.
 
How do you get it?
People outside the hospital usually don't get sick from this germ. It's most often seen in people who are already ill and in the hospital for another reason. Having a breathing tube raises your risk.
 
Why is it a concern? 
This superbug is considered a "survivor" because it forms a protective shield against antibiotics. It is tough to treat because it can easily spread between people. These bacteria cause dangerous lung, brain, and urinary tract infections, among others.
 

Serious Threat: MRSA

What is it?
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is a type of bacteria that cannot be treated with penicillin. Many healthy people have staph on their skin and in their nose and it doesn't make them sick. But you can spread it to others.
 
How do you get it? 
This infection most often happens to people in the hospital, often after surgery. It can infect a wound and spread to surrounding tissues and your blood. The bacteria can spread easily with skin-to-skin contact. Your risk is higher if you have a cut.
 
Why is it a concern?
Although there are pretty good drugs to treat it now, new and more agressive strains have emerged outside medical settings, and can cause serious infections in the lungs and heart valves.
 
Dr. R. Ben-Ami is an Infectious Disease Specialist and a Medix consultant 
 

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