Antibiotic resistant germs are showing up in hospitals around the country, as well as in the playroom or a fitness gym down the street.
And now a new super-bug is even more resistant than others of similar ilk.
The bug, known as NDM-1, is untouchable by all but two antibiotics.
The reason everyone is concerned at the moment is because this is a very, very resistant organism.
More so than normally.
This bug is so new, doctors don't know how it developed or how patients contract it, though for the moment, it seems to be transmitted in hospitals in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Doctors don't yet know what the risk is, but people who haven't traveled, shouldn't have to worry at this moment in time.
That could change though.
Doctors who looked at NDM-1 say that unprecedented air travel and migration allow the bug to spread globally and undetected until somebody gets sick.
Here's how to keep you and your family safe.
Experts have long warned against the overuse of antibiotics because of the possibility that bacteria would develop resistance to the drugs we use to kill them and thus become super-bugs.
Now, researchers say, some of their fears have come to pass. The CDC estimates that of the approximately 2 million bacterial infections Americans acquire in hospitals each year, 70% are resistant to at least one of the drugs commonly used against them.
Why that's scaring the experts?
If standard drugs don't work, doctors sometimes have to turn to more potent and more toxic alternatives.
In some cases, those last-resort antibiotics have caused irreversible liver or kidney problems or lasting pain from nerve damage.
In others, people have died for lack of an effective treatment to a variety of super-bugs.
The CDC says that drug resistance kills 70,000 Americans each year, in fact more than car accidents and homicides combined.
"The super-bugs are here," says Martin J. Blaser, MD, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the chair of New York University Medical School's department of medicine.
"And it doesn't take a crystal ball to see that even more super-bug type problems are coming."
Scientists are trying to develop new bacteria-fighting drugs, but that process takes decades.
In the meantime, we have to defend ourselves.
It's crucial to be able to recognize the warning signs of a super-bug infection, or, even better, prevent infections.
Here are four of the most dangerous of these super-bug germs and how leading experts say you can protect yourself.
The Super-bugs Are Here
A Toxic Stomach Bug:
The number of new cases of super-bug C. difficile associated colitis among US hospital patients has doubled over the past 5 to 10 years, to as many as 500,000 a year, reports CDC medical epidemiologist L. Clifford McDonald, MD.
The infection rate outside hospitals appears to have increased many times over, as well.
And the super-bug death rate has skyrocketed: from less than 2% to as high as 17%.
Don't badger your doctor for unnecessary antibiotics.
Remember: Antibiotics don't work against viral infections such as colds or flu’s.
Ask about alternatives if your doctor suggests long-term antibiotics for a chronic bacterial infection such as acne.
(Try remedies like benzoyl peroxide cream instead.)
Avoid broad-spectrum antibiotics, if possible, when an illness requires an antibiotic.
(Broad spectrum means they kill off good bacteria along with the bad.)
The broad-spectrum antibiotics most associated with C. difficile infection are clindamycin (Cleocin) and the fluoroquinolones (Cipro, Floxin, and Levaquin).
Consider upping your intake of "friendly" bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Bifid bacterium.
They can be found in many brands of live culture yogurt.
Such a step can't hurt as research continues on whether it can help deny bad bugs a foothold in your system.
Contact your doctor if you have diarrhea or cramping and gas that last longer than a few days, and avoid anti-diarrhea remedies, which can prevent your body from expelling C. difficile's tissue-damaging toxins.
Instead, drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated and try the BRAT diet: bananas, rice, applesauce and toast.
More Than a Cold
On Christmas night a few years back, 14-month-old Bryce Smith had a stuffy nose and slight fever.
His first cold, said his parents.
Around midnight on New Year's Eve, Bryce began to struggle frighteningly for breath.
The Smiths rushed him to the hospital, where a nurse checked his oxygen level.
Within seconds, the Mother recalls, at least 10 doctors and nurses had crowded around her baby, looking very scared.
X-rays and CT scans showed that Bryce's lungs were riddled with holes, and a team of surgeons hurried him into the operating room.
Doctors told the Smiths that Bryce had the worst kind of lung infection, one caused by a particularly virulent variety of super-bug...staph bacteria.
Dubbed CA-MRSA, for community-acquired methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, the bacteria is resistant to penicillin, amoxicillin, and the other "cillins."
And it produces poisons, which were chewing up Bryce's lungs.
Bryce lay in a medically induced coma for a month as doctors infused his body with a cocktail of antibiotics, sedatives and other drugs.
The medicines worked: After 40 days, the doctors brought him out of sedation and removed his tubes.
But his parents have to be super-vigilant now, because the treatment weakened his immune system, at least temporarily.
"What would be an ordinary cold for us, could prove deadly for him," his dad says.
Staph causes problems only when it slips past the body's defenses, through a cut or scratch or into lungs weakened by a viral infection.
Close contact on playing fields, in locker rooms and showers, and between children in day care and preschool has been the key to many outbreaks.
(Young children appear to be particularly at risk.)
MRSA made headlines back in 2005 when Miami Dolphins Junior Seau and Charles Rodgers were hospitalized with limb-threatening skin infections and college football player Ricky Lannetti of Philadelphia died suddenly of the super-bug MRSA pneumonia on the heels of the flu.
And a few months ago, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine startled physicians by revealing that the super-bug now causes more than half of all skin infections treated in U.S. emergency rooms.
It's crucial, say researchers, for doctors to keep the possibility of MRSA in mind.
In the recent study, most cases of MRSA were treated with drugs that don't work against the super-bug.
Wash cuts and scrapes thoroughly with soap and water.
Don't share personal items such as towels and razors, and just in case you have a scratch that would offer entry to MRSA, always keep your clothing or a towel between your skin and any shared surfaces such as workout equipment or locker-room benches.
Get vaccinated against the flu as the disease clearly raises the risk of the most severe kind of staph infections.
Don't ignore an infected wound or a pus-filled boil, not even a scratch, if it seems to worsen over the course of a few days.
Super-bug MRSA skin infections tend to be very red, swollen, and painful, sometimes with a raised bump resembling a spider bite.
Getting the right antibiotic is critical, so ask your doctor to consider the possibility of MRSA.
Be particularly vigilant about any chest cold or flu that takes a sudden turn for the worse, or a fever that spikes over 102 degrees F.
"Every major medical center is now on the alert for MRSA,".
"But there's still a problem with general practitioners and small community hospitals, where doctors may never have seen a super-bug case."
Food's Dangerous Hitchhikers
Frightening news stories recently about the damage done by tainted spinach made it horrifyingly clear:
Produce, like meat, can harbor lethal germs which are actually super-bugs.
The culprit in spinach, E. coli 0157:H7, is not antibiotic resistant (in fact, antibiotics are not used to treat this infection), but is indisputably extra toxic as the poisons it produces can cause fatal kidney failure.
Strains of other food borne super-bugs, Salmonella and Campylobacter, turn out vicious toxins, as well and these super-bugs shrug off many drugs that once could vanquish them.
All told, these pathogens sicken 3 to 4 million North Americans each year and kill several hundred.
Be scrupulous about washing hands after touching raw meat or eggs, and cook these foods thoroughly.
(More than half of all cuts of raw supermarket chicken carry the super-bugs Salmonella and Campylobacter, studies show.)
Use hot, soapy water to wash cutting boards and other kitchen surfaces that come in contact with raw meat or eggs.
Rinse produce, even veggies and fruits with a thick rind, such as cantaloupe, with a strong spray of water.
If produce is contaminated by irrigation water, as was the case with spinach, only thorough cooking will destroy the super-bug germs.
Wash your (and your kids') hands after handling pet rodents and reptiles or farm animals, which can spread Salmonella and Campylobacter super-bug germs.
Throw your kitchen sponges into the dishwasher daily and dishrags into the washing machine often using hot water.
See a doctor for severe gastrointestinal distress that lasts more than a couple of days, especially if accompanied by fever.
If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, call back if symptoms worsen or don't get better within 24 hours.
Bladder Infections That Won't Quit
The first time Dena Kelley got a urinary tract infection, she ended up in the emergency room.
Kelley was seeing what looked like tissue in the toilet bowl, the lining of her infected bladder.
The ER doc gave her a powerful antibiotic, Cipro, to stop the infection fast, but 6 weeks later, Kelley got another UTI.
Over the next year, she averaged an infection every 2 months.
Finally, her doctors reluctantly turned to a drug to which she'd been allergic in childhood, amoxicillin, at four times the usual dose.
Fortunately, she had outgrown her sensitivity to the drug, which ended the agonizing bouts of UTIs.
But she can no longer make it through the night without a trip to the bathroom.
And her doctors have told her that permanent bladder damage may predispose her to chronic infections throughout her life.
Roughly half of all women get at least one UTI at some point in their lives.
Until the late 1990s, doctors were able to treat the problem with trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim), a narrowly targeted antibiotic with minimal side effects.
But many UTIs have become resistant to Bactrim and other drugs.
So doctors must use stronger antibiotics that can cause problems of their own.
"These powerful antibiotics increase the chances of a yeast infection, and also the chances that a woman's next bacterial infection, whether it's another UTI or pneumonia, will be drug resistant."
If a resistant UTI lingers, it can cause scarring which predisposes a woman to even more UTIs.
Some doctors try to stop the vicious cycle by keeping women on antibiotics for months at a time.
But that virtually guarantees that any break-through super-bugs infections will be impervious to antibiotics.
Begin with good vaginal hygiene:
Wipe from front to back after using the toilet and pee before and after sexual intercourse.
Don't douche, and consider alternatives to spermicidals as both can irritate the delicate tissue around the urethra, raising the odds of infection.
Discourage UTI-causing bacteria by making the urinary tract and vagina more acidic.
"Cranberry juice is good at this.
Cranberry capsules are better," it's recommended two or three glasses of juice or capsules a day for women who are prone to recurrent infection.
Also helpful: acidifying vaginal jelly available by prescription (Acigel) or over the counter (RepHresh).
Try a low-estrogen vaginal cream if you're peri or postmenopausal and getting lots of UTIs.
It will keep the tissue of the urethra from thinning and becoming more vulnerable to infection.
If you suspect a UTI, ask your doc to send a urine sample for analysis.
Start antibiotics, but call back for results.
If it turns out not to be a bacterial infection, stop the drugs and work with your doctor to find the true cause.
If a bacterium is at fault, check to make sure the drug you're on is effective against the bug you have.
The Super-bugs Are Here
3 Stay-Healthy Moves to Make Right Now
1. Wash often.
Scrubbing with old-fashioned soap and hot water is the best way to keep germs and super-bugs at bay.
Do it before eating, after using the toilet or handling animals, and before and after preparing food.
Wash vigorously for 20 seconds.
2. Pack the right gel if a sink isn't handy, clean up with an alcohol hand sanitizer.
Studies show that when someone is sick in a household, classroom, or workplace, using a gel (between hand washings) reduces the spread of disease-causing bacteria and viruses leading to these super-bugs.
Be sure to choose a product containing 60 to 95% alcohol as some contain less and can actually help spread germs and in turn super-bugs.
Use a generous dollop, enough so that hands still feel damp after rubbing them together for 20 seconds.
3. Skip antibacterial soap, household soaps and other products with antibacterial chemicals, such as triclosan and triclocarban, as they do not prevent infection any better than products without them, studies have shown.
Worse, some experts worry that they may actually promote drug resistance.
There's no proof yet that they do, but why take the risk when they haven't been shown to be any more effective?
A Healthy Hospital Stay
Ironically, a hospital is not a good place to be when you're sick.
Filled with the sickest patients on the strongest antibiotics, they're breeding grounds for super-bugs.
Unfortunately, many doctors neglect the steps that can reduce patients' risk of picking up nasty germs or super-bugs during their stay.
Enlist a friend or family member to help ensure that doctors and other medical personnel follow these guidelines.
Ask your doctor to remove invasive devices such as catheters and IV lines as soon as it's safe as they provide a pathway into your body for super-bugs and any dangerous bacteria.
Request the most highly targeted antibiotic if you require one...
...and, remind your doctor to take you off the drug as soon as possible.Tweet
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