Years ago I worked in a bacteriology laboratory identifying various pathogens and I remember my boss always reminding me two things: wash your hands for at least one minute and don’t wave the loop (the gizmo used to culture bacteria).
At that time I was concerned about E.coli, S.aureus and mostly anthrax. But somehow I rested assured that there was medication around and apart from some diarrhea and other unpleasant short lived symptoms, everything would be fine.
It seems not to hold true anymore. Today we are worried about the nasty hospital superbugs, resistant to even the strongest antibiotics.
These superbugs are having a very unnerving habit: to morph into something more and more dangerous.
Disease Control and Prevention. Health Canada reports that superbug infections cost $24-33 million annually to manage and that rates of infection and colonization have doubled annually for each of the past five years.
The scientists seemed to agree that the over-prescription of antibiotics and the increased presence of antibiotics in meat and fish contribute to bacteria developing resistance to the drugs.
It’s seems to be a circle of death: antibiotics over-prescribed and meat treated with antibiotics weaken our immune system- we are more susceptible to mutant strains resistant to common antibiotics- to combat them we need stronger antibiotics which will weaken our immune system even more- bacteria will adapt and morphed to fight the antibiotic.
Let’s review the most dangerous superbugs:
– MRSA- Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus
– VISA/VRSA- Vencomycin-Intermediate/Resistant Staphylococcus aureus
– Clostridium difficile
C. difficile (Clostridium difficile) usually occurs during or after the use of antibiotics. Main symptoms include: diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain and nausea. Found in feces, it is usually spread through contaminated surfaces such as toilets, bedpans, handles and common chairs.
It is treated with….antibiotics.
MRSA is a potentially lethal bacterium that causes infections in humans and is difficult to combat because it has developed a resistance to certain antibiotics, among them being methicillin.
Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus usually strikes in hospitals, where conditions suit it, but it can occur in otherwise healthy people who have not been recently hospitalized or had a medical procedure involving surgery, dialysis or catheters which tend to be a breeding ground for MRSA.
S. aureus is a bacteria normally found on the skin and mucus (nose). Most S. aureus will cause infections, like the ones normally occurring when we get a cut and it’s not properly disinfected. The bacteria move from the surface of the skin into the wound and as a normal response the white cells fight the intruders. To be on the safe side we are using over the counter antibiotic ointments like Polysporin. Again, antibiotic.
To fight MRSA the chosen antibiotic would be vancomycin, until recently when new strains of MRSA showed antibiotic resistance even to vancomycin.
Hence the new and ‘improved’ strain: VISA or vancomycin resistant S. aureus.
Treatment for this strain: the new antibiotic platensimycin.
So, to treat two highly antibiotic resistant bacteria strains we have to use stronger and stronger antibiotics.
Or, maybe start reconsidering the whole antibiotic strategy and switch to phage or maggots therapy.
Disgusting as it may sound, maggot therapy seems to be very effective.
It’s a type of biotherapy involving the introduction of live, disinfected maggots into the non-healing skin and soft tissue wound for selectively cleaning out the necrotic tissue within a wound and promote wound healing.
Phage (bacteriophage) therapy involves the use of viruses (bacteriophages) that invades only bacterial cells causing the bacterium to burst and die, thus releasing more phages.
The theoretical benefits of phage therapy:
– less side effects
– don’t stress liver
– a small dose is sometimes sufficient
– they are specifically designed to match the bacteria
What can we do to prevent the spread of these nasty superbugs?
Apparently become cleaner.
Wash our hands more often using warm water and lots of soap and disinfect with alcohol rather then using other chemicals that will only make the bacteria to morph into something new.
I am not going to touch the stringent subject of how the contracts are given to shady companies for cleaning the hospitals even if I believe it’s one of the reasons for the hospital mess. Maybe next time.