The enormous number of cases of superbug infections in recent years has much of the medical community deeply concerned. The National Institutes of Health reports that there are more than 2 million such cases annually which lead to 23,000 deaths in the U.S. There are a growing number of these drug-resistant bacterial strains including MRSA, CRE, C. Diff, NDM-1, tuberculosis, and gonorrhea. MRSA is the most dangerous of these, causing almost 80,000 infections and 11,000 fatalities annually.
The growing number of drug resistant contagions is largely attributable to the overuse of antibiotics in humans and livestock. Because bacteria can propagate and exchange drug resistance genes, once immunity to a particular antibiotic has developed, it can be rapidly transmitted to an entire bacterial population.
Hospitals have become the new battleground in the fight against superbugs. Not only are hospitals a "ground zero" for immune-compromised patients who may contract infections or spread it to other patients, but these facilities may even transmit the infection to healthy visitors merely through touch or contact with a contaminated surface. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.7 million patients are infected by conventional or drug resistant bacteria through hospitals, and almost 99,000 deaths result each year.
Infection has long been a serious concern for hospital administrators and staff, but there are a number of factors that make it imperative the medical community is more aware and proactive.
First, the resistance rates which were at ten to 15 percent in the 90's have jumped to almost 60 percent today. Furthermore, the number of new antibiotics coming online has diminished dramatically as fewer pharmaceutical companies are willing to invest the money and time necessary to produce effective medications.
Without the addition of new antibiotics, medical facilities are looking at other ways to limit new infections. The first is robust hygiene protocols. Not only should hospital staff rigorously and habitually wash their hands, so should anyone who enters a hospital or clinical setting. A thorough scrubbing with soap and water, not just hand sanitizer, is the most effective way to limit exposure.
Holding off on Antibiotics
The second strategy requires meticulous use of antibiotics. Many physicians are recommending that patients hold off use of antibiotics in many common situations like ear infections because these often clear up naturally, or colds and flus which do not respond to anti-bacterial medications. Even when a situation necessitates an antibiotic, it may be more appropriate to use a more specific one rather than a broad range type, which can promote resistance.
Use of Compounds
In addition to traditional antibiotics, researchers are also examining compounds which may produce similar results. Researchers are currently investigating the use of ebselen, a drug used for stroke and bipolar disorder victims, for treating C. difficile infections. Ebselen has produced promising results in mice studies; it appeared to eliminate toxicity from C. diff without affecting the presence of beneficial bacteria.
Some hospitals are also looking into other unconventional strategies. One of these is the use of copper which a natural anti-microbial. There are at least 15 medical organizations across the nation investigating the use of copper and other anti-microbial metals on "high touch" surfaces like faucets, doorknobs, light switches, toilet levers, cabinet handles and call buttons.
Article written by:
Robert Moghim, M.D.
CEO, Health Carousel Locum Tenens