8. Pseudomonas aeruginosa Can Seriously Impact the Rest of Your Life
Pseudomonas is a type of bacteria commonly found in both soil and water (via Science Direct). The one that seems to pose a risk to humans is Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can cause infections in the lungs, blood, and other body parts due to surgery. That is why this infection is common in hospital settings and long-term care facilities, especially on ventilation or feeding tubes. It is constantly finding new ways to increase its antibiotic resistance, making it more and more difficult to kill them so that they no longer continue to infect people.
The bacteria can be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces and then not washing one’s hands before coming into contact with another person (via Bio Fire). In a hospital, both patients and caregivers should keep their hands clean with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizers. Specialists should also clean hospital rooms daily to prevent further infection. Doctors take cultures from patients with known drug-resistant strains, and they test these strains in the lab to see which antibiotics work best on the bacteria before writing a prescription.
Some strains of Enterobacteriaceae bacteria are pretty dangerous, as they actively produce enzymes that break down commonly used antibiotics to render them ineffective (via AntiMicrobe). So, they’re essentially making it much harder for you to get better. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 200,000 infections of hospitalized patients involve Enterobacteriaceae bacteria. Furthermore, as many as 9,100 cases result in deaths. An infection isn’t only prevalent in hospitalized patients; it can quickly spread to very healthy people. An Enterobacteriaceae infection is the result of excessive use of antibiotics.
The symptoms of an infection can vary, depending on the area of the body that is infected. The most common symptoms include belly pain (stomach infection), shortness of breath (pneumonia), pain and swelling of the skin (skin infection), and pain with urination (urinary tract infection). Treatment options also vary, depending on the kind of infection. IV fluids are usually prevalent to prevent the body from dehydrating and carefully monitor vital signs and alternative antibiotic treatments to deal with the infection (via Bio Fire).
6. The Most Common Bacteria, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Is Now Antibiotic-Resistant
Streptococcus pneumoniae is one of the most common bacteria and causes many very nasty infections. It’s responsible for at least 2 million infections every year and takes so many different areas of the body (via Eco Watch). However, its resistance to so many antibiotics makes it a complicated bacteria to get rid of. Streptococcus pneumoniae is responsible for ear and sinus infections, pneumonia, infections of the bloodstream, and even meningitis. Meningitis is the bacterial infection of the brain that leads to swelling of brain tissues; because of the small space inside the skull, this swelling can lead to further complications and even death if left untreated.
The one piece of good news is that scientists are developing a vaccine to deal with the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria that even combats the drug-resistant variants. The vaccine has worked so well that it has reduced as much as 90% of Streptococcus pneumoniae infections in children (via Bio Fire). It’s definitely a step in the right direction, but with the number of superbugs still out there, there’s still much work left to do.
5. Should Someone Continue to Take Antibiotics When They’re Sick?
With all the news of these drug-resistant bacteria, people are hesitant to continue their antibiotic treatments, believing they’re only helping make them stronger. However, most antibiotics and antifungals are effective at fighting off these infections and even a few superbugs if people take them properly (via USA Today). Moreover, that means following your doctor’s orders to the letter; even if you feel better, you should take the whole round of antibiotic treatments until they are all gone (via USA Today). It is to ensure that the medicine kills all of the harmful bacteria. If you stop too early, you risk developing a drug-resistant strain.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, you should not self-prescribe antibiotics when you feel ill. Why? Because it could be a virus at work instead of bacteria. This, too, will increase drug resistance for the virus. Your viral infection will be more difficult to deal with in the future. If you feel wary about taking antibiotics, always speak to your primary care physician. Don’t be afraid to ask why you need that antibiotic. Also, double-check if there are any other options you could consider.
4. More And More Companies Are Taking the Initiative to Help Fight Against Superbugs
Some food companies like Panera, McDonald’s, and Tyson Foods have taken the initiative to stop using poultry and other meats that receive antibiotics (via Fox). This is a step in the right direction, even with governments refusing to do anything about it. These food companies developed their own policies that limit what kind of drugs can be used by their produce suppliers. Even though these are small steps taken by big companies, it’s a lot better than doing nothing.
These policies only go so far, however. McDonald’s, for example, will stop using chicken raised on human antibiotics (via Fox). Nevertheless, the company says nothing about them receiving animal antibiotics, which could contribute to the problem. Evidence has shown that the overuse of antibiotics can impact human health, even across species. Another unexamined problem is that this only applies to poultry and not beef. Those in the livestock industry are more concerned about meeting their bottom line than the state of human health.
3. How Can Scientists Bring New Antibiotics to the Market?
This is not just a problem for pharmaceutical companies; this is a problem that everyone should be involved in. Governments, industries, and other vital organizations should be working together to create a new pipeline of drugs to boost the chances of fighting these superbugs. There are several different options on the table people should consider. The first is to provide “rewards” to those who have successfully developed new antibiotics. Another idea is to use a “subscription” style of payment, where pharmaceutical companies receive payment upfront to access the drugs they’ve created (via Well Come).
Pharmaceutical companies have tried taking steps to improve the situation that everyone has found themselves in. For example, they’ve removed financial bonuses tied to sales. Furthermore, they have started sharing any data on the spread of drug-resistant infections with others. These are encouraging practices,. However, the change isn’t happening on the scale that’s required to really make a difference. At least not fast enough. Scientists need to take quicker action to protect modern medicine and reduce the drug-resistant infections. They are plaguing countries worldwide on a much broader scale.
There are insufficient drugs to deal with the growing threat of superbugs. That leaves the human population up the creek without a paddle. According to the World Health Organization, there are at least between forty and fifty antibiotics in clinical development at the moment. The majority of these will only bring limited results compared to already-existing treatments. Furthermore, only a few targets a small number of any of the superbugs.
The main problem is that it will take up to at least ten years for any of these drugs to make it to the market with the amount of testing they have to do (via Well Come). Moreover, many of them will fail along the way, too. Why? Because only one out of every fifteen drugs will actually reach patients for use. It has become a less fruitful endeavor, unfortunately. As a result, many pharmaceutical companies abandon research on antibiotics altogether. Nevertheless, there’s another hill to climb with getting these medications to market and making them accessible to both doctors and patients alike.
1. What Else Can Scientists Do to Combat These Resistant Superbugs?
Researchers have recently put their heads together to find better ways to combat these superbugs. How? By using their own relatives against them. They’ve employed the use of CRISPR-Cas9 (via DW). What is that? A constructed gene-editing tool that infiltrates the interior of the harmful bacteria. It works as a pair of “genetic scissors,” cutting the DNA strands in the bacteria. That way, they can no longer thrive. The great thing about this method is that it doesn’t kill the good bacteria in the body the way broad-spectrum antibiotics do; it focuses only on harmful bacteria.
CRISPR-Cas9 have specific DNA sequence targets to know precisely what to look for and cut where that sequence is. This process is even more successful because bacteria share genetic material just by touching. With these changed sequences, the bacteria do all of the work for CRISPR-Cas9 (via DW). That means copying the new series and ultimately spelling their own demise. This has proven to be 99.9% effective against the targeted antibiotic-resistant bacteria in mice. In fact, it works by killing them in just under four days. However, the real problem lies in determining whether bacteria will further evolve to combat this technology. Thus, making them even harder to kill in the future.