Protect Yourself and Your Family from Hard-to-Kill Supergerms

The CDC and World Health Organization are raising the alarm, but there are ways to protect your family from these mutated mega-germs.

May 2, 2011

Help control the superbug problem by washing with ordinary soap without antibiotic chemicals.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Death by malaria or tuberculosis isn't something we generally worry about in this country, so news that these diseases are growing resistant to drugs may not seem all that alarming. But the truth is, the widespread overuse and abuse of antimicrobials—antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals, and other medicines—has caused many germs to mutate in a way that makes them hard to kill, even with some of our toughest meds. These superbug strains, including ones like MRSA, sicken or kill thousands of Americans each year, all while increasing healthcare costs. Antimicrobial-resistant infections often result in longer hospital stays and more expensive treatments. To raise awareness of the growing superbug threat, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) last month selected antimicrobial resistance as the topic for World Health Day. In fact, the WHO warned that many infectious diseases risk becoming uncontrollable, meaning we could return to an era without effective antibiotics unless we stop the overuse of antibiotics and researchers develop new treatments.


THE DETAILS: Many drug-resistant germs are popping up in communities and in hospitals and long-term healthcare facilities. Earlier this spring, the LA Times reported on the emergence of a carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae, or CRKP, an antibiotic-resistant infection in healthcare settings that can cause bloodstream, wound, or surgical site infections, or even pneumonia or meningitis. Other studies have found this infection, which has limited treatments, leads to death in 40 percent of those infected.

Last year, researchers discovered that an emerging, virulent strain of E. coli, known as ST131, is close to becoming an untreatable superbug.

WHAT IT MEANS: Many public health experts believe part of the problem lies in the fact that we're abusing antibiotics. A great example of that is the industrial farm system, which Union of Concerned Scientists estimates feeds 70 percent of the antibiotics used in this country to confined animals to stimulate growth and prevent infection! In fact, a first-of-its-kind report from the Food and Drug Administration released in 2010 estimated that farms use nearly 30 billion pounds of antibiotics annually.

Beyond that, doctors and patients have played a role in the creation of superbugs due to drugs being overprescribed, antibiotics being demanded when not really needed, or prescriptions being unfinished. The CDC and WHO indicate these healthcare workers and patients alike must be active in slowing down the growing problem. Otherwise, our key treatments will be rendered useless in the near future.

Here are some tactics to help protect your family from superbugs.

• Avoid supermarket meat. A recent report discovered about half of supermarket meat tested harbored staph bacteria, with some even contaminated with the superbug MRSA. Factory farms, which are generally the source of meat sold in supermarkets, generally use lots of antibiotics and keep large numbers of animals in tight spaces, which can accelerate the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant germs. Try your best to look for grass-fed meat and pastured eggs from sustainable farmers.

• Keep kids safe. A 2010 study published in the journal Pediatrics found that MRSA rates in children have skyrocketed over the last decade. The good news is that proper and frequent hand washing can go a long way toward preventing the infection, so teach your child proper handwashing techniques at a young age. (Just don't use antibacterial soap. The main ingredient, triclosan, has been blamed as a factor relating to the rise in superbugs.) For more info, read Make Your Own Natural Hand Sanitizer.

• Don't get sick at the hospital. A study published last year in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that hospital-acquired infections, sometimes antibiotic-resistant ones, now only lead to longer hospital stays and threaten survival rates, but also cost the healthcare system about $8.1 billion a year. You can lower your risk of becoming infected at the hospital by finding a facility that uses a bundle system, a checklist system of proven methods that greatly reduce the risk of preventable infections. For more tips on preventing hospital infections, read:

1. How to Lower Your Risk of Getting Sick in the Hospital

2.Stop Deadly MRSA with a Few Simple Questions

3. Hygiene a Major Threat at Outpatient Surgery Centers