What are “superbugs”?: Germs that can’t be killed by basic antibiotics
. Some common but serious infections are getting harder to treat because more bacteria, viruses, and parasites (organisms that live in or on other living things) are able to survive some of the drugs we use, like basic antibiotics. These include pneumonia, tuberculosis, HIV, and infections that happen after surgery.
Where are antibiotic-resistant bacteria found?: Pretty much everywhere. The World Health Organization says they’re in every country. If it keeps getting harder to prevent and treat infections, things like chemotherapy and major surgery (C-sections or knee replacements, for example) can become very risky.
About how many Americans get sick each year from bacteria that can’t be killed by basic antibiotics?: 2 million. If antibiotics don’t work against an infection, doctors have to prescribe drugs that can be less effective, more expensive, and have more side effects. People who get sick from these kinds of infections also usually need longer to recover.
What’s the most dangerous superbug found so far: Clostridium difficile (C. diff). This is a strain of bacteria that causes life-threatening diarrhea. It’s No. 1 on the list of urgent threats, according to the CDC.
In the U.S., drug-resistant infections cost about this much every year: $55 billion. This number includes $20 billion in direct health care costs and $35 billion in lost productivity (people being too sick to work).
Using hand sanitizers can spread superbugs.: False. These use alcohol, not antibiotics, to kill germs. But the CDC says soap and water is still the best way to clean your hands.
What percentage of antibiotic prescriptions aren’t really needed?: 30%. Doctors often prescribe antibiotics to people who have illnesses caused by viruses (like the common cold, sinus infections, and ear infections). But they only work on bacteria, so they’re not effective treatments for those.
This illnesses shouldn’t be treated with antibiotics?: Bronchitis. It’s usually caused by a virus, so an antibiotic won’t help and might contribute to the rise of a drug-resistant infection.
The best thing you can to do help prevent superbugs is: Avoid infections. The key is to lower the number of antibiotics that are used each year. You can help with that by staying healthy. Keep up to date on your vaccines, use safe practices when you’re cooking, and wash your hands with soap and water.
This is a good way to keep drug-resistant bacteria from spreading: Take all your prescribed medications. Finish the pills prescribed by your doctor, even after you feel better. If your doctor doesn’t think you need antibiotics, don’t ask for them.
Antibiotic resistance is a natural process.: True
. Over time, bacteria that survive treatment by drugs can pass that ability on to other bacteria. But this is happening faster than it normally would because of things we do, like use antibiotics too often and give them to livestock to make them grow.
In the U.S., farm animals get more antibiotics than people.: True. About 70% of antibiotics sold here are used on livestock. Scientists say that could lead to drug-resistant bugs that can be passed to humans. Many large companies in the food industry have agreed to use fewer antibiotics in their meat or stop using them altogether.
When did doctors discover antibiotic resistance in bacteria?: 1940. The first case was a strain of the bacteria that causes staph infections — it was resistant to penicillin. By the time Alexander Fleming (the man who discovered that drug in 1928) won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1945, he was already talking about the dangers of drug resistance.