Bacteria Research

A bacteriology researcher at the Institute of Medical Research swabs an isolated sample of streptococcus pneumonia. The researcher is testing the bacteria to determine if the strain has sensitivity to antibiotics or if it is resistant.

A global concern has arisen as the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria keeps increasing every year. According to the CDC, 23,000 people in just the U.S. die each year from infections that are not treatable by antibiotics. These infections are known as superbugs. A superbug is a specific bacterium that has gradually adapted to the antibiotic drugs being used to treat it and those treatments eventually become less effective or completely ineffective thus creating a public health threat as new treatments are desperately trying to be discovered.

“The World Health Organization currently lists 12 bacterial threats seen as the highest priority for needing new antibiotics. Critical pathogens are of the highest priority since they cause the most severe infections and have the highest mortality rate”, says Morgan Statt, a Health and Safety Investigator with ConsumerSafety.org

Right now, there are three superbugs of particular concern that health agencies want people to be aware of.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is a bacterial strain that causes Staph infections. It is currently at a severe threat level as it will worsen without monitoring and prevention methods. MRSA can cause a number of infections. The most common are skin infections like sores or boils. Pneumonia, sepsis, and bloodstream infections are much more severe cases. MRSA is spread by contact therefore athletes are especially susceptible to it.

Each year there are approximately 80,461 severe MRSA infections with a little over 11,000 deaths per year.

One of the biggest, and easiest, ways to lower your risk is to simply practice good hand and body hygiene. Don’t be afraid to wash your hands or take a shower as often as possible. Cover cuts, scrapes, and other open wounds until they are fully healed so you reduce your chances of contact with another person. Also avoid sharing your personal hygiene materials such as razors and towels.

“Of the three listed, the most serious in terms of threat level is Neisseria gonorrhoeae which causes gonorrhea. There are 246,000 drug resistant gonorrhea infections each year, and its growing antibiotic resistance has the potential to become widespread. This is why public health efforts should be and have been made to reduce transmission of infections”, says Statt. Gonorrhea is an STD occurring in the genitals, mouth, or rectum. If it is not treated it can cause infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease. Another side effect is an increased risk of contracting HIV.

Each year there are close to 820,000 cases of Gonorrhea. Of those 820,000, there are 246,000 drug-resistant infections every year. In 2016, the highest rates of this disease were found to be in men and women from the ages of 20-24. With nearly 20 million new STD’s occurring each year, half of those are among young people aging 15-24 years old. A rather alarming stat says that in 2016 less than 12% of adolescents and young adults were tested for a sexually transmitted infection.

Not yet a superbug, but of rising concern is another STD called Mycoplasma genitalium, or MG. MG often occurs right alongside Gonorrhea and it mimics similar symptoms. It is difficult to treat with antibiotics as many people do not actually show symptoms. Experts are saying that if it not addressed it may lead to a public health emergency. On top of that 72 percent of sexual health experts say it could become a superbug resistant to first and second line antibiotics within 10 years if no preventive actions are taken.

You can knock your risks of this disease down by practicing safe sexual health. You should also get tested for STD’s at least once a year or every time you have a new sexual partner. Antibiotics don’t treat viral infections therefore you shouldn’t overuse them. With that being said, avoid taking antibiotics if you have a cold, influenza, bronchitis, or a sinus injection. This way your body doesn’t see that medicine as much and won’t be able to build up a resistance to it as easily.

The third and final of these dangerous superbugs is Bacterial Pneumonia and Meningitis. The leading cause to this disease is Streptococcus Pneumoniae. It can also cause bloodstream, sinus, and ear infections. Vaccinations are encouraged as seniors and young children are at the highest risk of contraction. Twelve million drug-resistant infections occur per year with 7,000 deaths. Many people are hospitalized with this bug with 19,000 people per year spending excessive time in the hospital. Although it is a dangerous disease it can be prevented with some easy practices. Make sure you are practicing good hygiene by washing your hands often. Simple hygiene practices many times will help prevent you from getting sick whether it be a minor sickness or something more serious like these superbugs. As mentioned earlier get the recommended vaccines and only take antibiotics as they are prescribed by your doctor.

“Overuse and misuse of antibiotics are two main reasons for what causes an infection to become resistant to antibiotics. Every time we take antibiotics, we leave behind resistant bacteria that can grow and multiply. These bacteria effectively change in some way that allows them to reduce or completely eliminate the effectiveness of the antibiotics that are designed to kill them”, said Statt. “Since overuse and misuse are largely responsible for the rise of these superbugs, it's important to do your part to prevent further antibiotic resistance. Make sure you take your antibiotics as directed if you do receive a prescription. Avoid taking any antibiotics if you have viral infections, and inquire about vaccines that can help you stay healthy.” 

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