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more articles by Snedeker, Jeffrey , MD  |  author's bio

Antibiotics and “Superbugs”

Interesting Facts About “Super Bugs”

By Jeffrey Snedeker, MD

 

There has been a lot in the news lately about “super bugs,” which is a term that some people use to refer to bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. Super bugs are not actually a new phenomenon; it’s just that we are seeing more bacteria now than ever before that are resistant to an increasing number of medications.

 

Before antibiotics came into widespread use in the 1950s, people sometimes died of what today we consider to be routine infections. With the emergence of super bugs, even common infections can be harder to treat because some bacteria are resistant to many antibiotics. Very sick people in hospitals are at the highest risk.

 

How do super bugs develop in the first place?

 

Different antibiotics kill bacteria in a variety of different ways. The billions of bacteria that normally live in your body always include a few mutants that by chance have become antibiotic-resistant. If they are exposed to antibiotics, the mutants that are resistant survive while the others are killed off. In essence, repeated exposure to antibiotics over time can make these resistant mutant bugs predominant.

 

Do antibiotics kill the bugs that cause colds?

 

Viruses, not bacteria, cause colds. Viruses do not respond to antibiotics. Nevertheless, sometimes doctors feel pressure from patients to write a prescription for antibiotics. Even most bronchitis is typically nothing more than a really bad cough caused by a virus, which usually goes away on its own with time.

 

What about earaches and sinus infections?

 

There is also a common misconception that if you do have a bacterial infection, you have to be given an antibiotic to get better, but it’s not always true. Take ear infections in kids by way of example. Roughly three-quarters of ear infections get better without treatment in two to three days. However, we don’t know which child is the one out of four who needs the antibiotic to get better, so frequently an antibiotic is prescribed anyway.

 

What is the consequence of over-prescribing antibiotics?

 

The toll it may take is that the population of bacteria living in your body may become resistant to antibiotics because the bacteria in your system that responded to antibiotics have been killed off.

 

What is the proper way to take antibiotics?

 

It is very important to take all of the antibiotic pills in your prescription for the full length of time your doctor has instructed. Skipping doses or stopping and starting repeatedly encourages resistant bacteria to take over. This means that you should not save a few of the pills in your prescription for the next time you get sick.

 

Is MRSA a serious problem?

 

MRSA is the antibiotic-resistant bug that has gotten the most attention from the media. These particular bacteria have become more aggressive in causing superficial infections, mostly of the skin. MRSA can cause serious infections even in healthy people, although it is a much bigger problem for hospital patients. We are seeing increased cases of MRSA on sports teams where players suffer broken skin and share towels and personal items and in people who shave their skin below the neck.

 

To reduce your risks of MRSA, take good care of your skin. Don’t do body shaving, and don’t share razors, towels, or hairbrushes. If you suffer a skin injury, wash it and keep it covered until it’s healed. And remember to wash your hands frequently.

 

Dr. Snedeker is a board certified pediatrician and pediatric infectious disease specialist on staff at Cayuga Medical Center and in practice with Northeast Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in Ithaca, (607)257-2188.

 

 

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