In light of a recent article put forth by the CBC about the prevalence of superbugs in hotel rooms, we wanted to review what exactly these superbugs are, how they came out about, and how you can best protect yourself from them.
To begin with, the term “superbug” refers to a type of bacteria that has evolved resistance to antibiotics. The most common superbugs right now are: MRSA (methicillin-resistantStaphylococcus aureus), C. diff (clostridium difficile), and VRE (vancomycin resistant enterococci). There are numerous factors that experts believe have contributed to their evolution. One is the abuse or overuse of antibiotics. Many times when we come down with a bad head cold or flu like symptoms, we assume we can be treated with medicine. However, if the infection is viral, using antibiotics is not going to treat the infection at all. It might, however, start training other bacteria to develop resistance to it. Another way that antibiotics are dangerously misused is in patients who don't complete their doses. All to often, a patient will start a course of antibiotics, start feeling better within three days, and deem it unnecessary to continue taking them. This is one of the most dangerous practices out there because rather than completely killing the bacteria, you are fighting it just enough to encourage it to fight back by means of evolving stronger strains. If this describes your current antibiotic consumption pattern, you are unfortunately guilty of providing a training arena for superbugs in your body.
Another area in which antibiotics are being misused is in the farming industry, where animals are routinely fed with antibiotics to prevent them from catching diseases in their overcrowded conditions. The trouble again is that when antibiotics are administered without need, rather than containing an existing infection, this practice alerts bacteria to a new “enemy” that they will waste no time in evolving against.
Now, it may seem silly to tell you this, but your greatest safeguard against these infections truly is rooted in hygienic procedures. Most people's handwashing habits are actually not up to the standard required for fighting off infections. Handwashing should be thorough, and should take twenty seconds (the time it takes you to sing “happy birthday”--assuming you're not rushing through it). You should also ensure that in addition to the palms of your hands, the other (easy to forget) parts get adequate attention—especially the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and your thumbs. Additionally, using antimicrobial wipes on surfaces that you touch regularly will help offer additional protection. Observing these practices will do a tremendous amount to keep you healthy.