Medicine-resistant bacteria on the rise

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

bacteria diagram
How the little buggers become superbugs.

Just about every minute of the day, we encounter trillions of bacteria that can make us really sick. Usually, doctors can easily treat the sickness with antibiotics – a special type of medicine that kills harmful bacteria. However, according to a new report from the CDC, the number of bacteria that can fight the medicine – superbugs – has reached catastrophic levels. Worse yet, it’s all our fault.

What could we have possibly done to make this happen? Okay, ever notice that hand sanitizer bottles only claim to kill 99.99% of the bacteria, but never 100%? It’s because there are some bugs that are strong enough to survive! And they don’t just sit there waiting to die, instead, the germs make clones. While some take more than a day to multiply, others can double every 20 minutes, which is really fast. For example, say you apply sanitizer to your hands and kill all but 100 measly bacteria. In just 24 hours, the survivors can multiply to be trillions strong!

The same process can happen when an individual gets a bacterial infection in their bodies. The antibiotics kill most of the microorganisms (including the good ones!), but the bacteria that survive can multiply into an entire population of superbugs. The CDC has been warning the public for years not to overuse antibiotics because of this. Even now, they estimate 2 million people  are infected with  superbugs per year causing 23,000 deaths. Well, for the first time ever, the CDC has created a ranking system to categorize the dangerous superbugs. In order from least to most serious, the levels are: concerning, serious, and urgent.

The government agency outlined a few simple steps in order to avoid what they call the “post-antibiotic” era, where no medicine on the market is able to treat bacterial infections. Some steps on the CDC’s part include identifying bacteria that are on their way to becoming superbugs and making medicine quickly. However, you can play your part, too.

Be aware of personal hygiene and prevent an infection before it happens. Simple ways to do this include washing hands frequently and handling food properly. If you do catch an infection, only take antibiotics when they are absolutely necessary. According to CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden, it’s important to stick to these simple steps or “the medicine cabinet may be empty for patients who need them in the coming months and years.”

Images courtesy of the CDC.