Superbugs are more than just the latest health scare — they’re a very real threat that mean curing common illnesses like pneumonia and urinary tract infections may soon not be as simple as a quick trip to the doctor and prescription for an antibiotic.
A superbug is a microorganism (such as a bacterium, virus, and parasite) that has developed resistance to more than one drug — antimicrobials such as antibiotics — that are used to eliminate it. Antimicrobial resistance is becoming an increasingly serious issue, so it’s important to learn more about superbugs and what we can do to stop them.
Here are five facts you need to know.
- A global concern. The World Health Organization is calling antimicrobial resistance a global health emergency. If present trends continue, it’s projected to become one of the leading causes of death, even exceeding cancer.
- Who is at risk? According to the WHO, anyone of any age, in any country, can get an antibiotic-resistant infection. People who are most at risk of experiencing severe consequences from superbugs include younger children, older adults, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems due to a chronic illness. Resistant infections are more difficult and take longer to treat, may require hospitalization and can come with more severe side effects and expensive treatments.
- A post-antibiotic era is possible. When antibiotics were first discovered, they were hailed as wonder drugs that could easily cure what were once considered fatal illnesses. With superbugs, we’re at risk of returning to a time where common infections and complications from minor surgery can be deadly.
- We need diagnostics. A key priority for combating antibiotic resistance is ensuring only those who will benefit from an antibiotic are prescribed one. Health experts believe the best way to do this is by decreasing demand through advanced methods for diagnosis that can determine if an illness can be treated by an antibiotic, and if so, which one. That’s why more research is needed in the areas of prevention, diagnostics and surveillance.
- You can help. As doctors and scientists work to tackle superbugs, you can contribute to these efforts by staying up-to-date on your vaccinations, which helps prevent infections, and hand-washing, which is the best way to stop the spread of infections. Take antibiotics only when prescribed and as indicated by a certified health professional – that means finishing your prescribed treatment even if you feel better, as the infection might not be completely gone.