Life Science & Technology

Super bugs and the antibiotic resistance threat

Antibiotics are one of humanity's greatest inventions, but we are now entering a time where they may ultimately be responsible for our downfall if we keep using them at the same rate.

In May of 2018, an elderly man was admitted to the hospital needing abdominal surgery. After testing his blood, doctors had realized the man was infected with Candida Auris, a yeast that was preying on his weak immune system. After staying in the hospital for 90 days, the man succumbed to the infection and died; however, the yeast did not die with him. Scans of the room showed C. Auris everywhere: in the floor, bed walls, everything. It was so invasive because it is immune to many major antifungal medicines.

C. Auris is a yeast that behaves like a superbug, immune to most antifungal medicines in the same way most bacteria-superbugs are resistant or immune to antibiotics.

Since 1928, antibiotics have helped save countless lives from terrible infections and illnesses, but over time we have taken antibiotics for granted. By over-prescribing them, certain viruses have mutated and immunized themselves against our most important medicine.

People are constantly being prescribed antibiotics to treat various illnesses, but this comes at a hefty price. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 2 million Americans are infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and more than 23,000 people die as a result each year.

Candida Auris is a yeast that causes serious infections once it enters the bloodstreams. Due to unexpected outbreaks, it has been causing trouble recently for a variety of hospitalized patients throughout the world, especially because it does not react to antifungal medicine. Symptoms aren’t usually noticeable since C. Auris is only really found in hospitalized patients with other illnesses or conditions. The symptoms also depend on which part of the body C. Auris is present in, for example, fever and chills are the most common symptoms in bloodstream infections. The CDC says that more than 1 in 3 patients with an invasive infection will die.

The obvious threat with C. Auris and other dangerous superbugs, is that they are resistant to our antibiotics. This means that the best case scenario, we need to prescribe more antibiotics to cure someone. In the worst case scenario, the superbug immunizes itself from all antibiotics completely, and humans have even more incurable diseases.

If superbugs like C. Auris are such an incurable threat, are we just delaying the inevitable doom now? It really depends on how we treat the situation.

In a study by the CDC and Journal of the American Medical Association, 1 in 3 antibiotic prescriptions in the U.S are completely unnecessary. Experts from both JAMA and the CDC agree that reducing inappropriate antibiotic use is required to reduce the amount of antibiotic resistant bacteria there is today.

Those experts recommend that we stop prescribing antibiotic drugs for every small cough and cold. After all, that is the reason why these superbugs have mutated in the first place. By using antibiotics as more of a last resort for when a patient is seriously ill and letting our body fight off a virus naturally, we extend the shelf life of antibiotics for a lot longer and also make our immune system a lot stronger in the process.

Another potential, but risky maneuver we can use is to try older, yet possibly dangerous antibiotics to fight off an infection. A patient named David Ricci was infected with a new kind of superbug and wasn’t responding to the antibiotics given to him. In a desperate attempt, doctors gave him colistin, an antibiotic rarely used due to the fact that it can cause irreversible organ damage in high doses. In the end, David did suffer organ damage, however, he made a full recovery proving that these dangerous medicines can be used as a last resort if necessary.

There are options available to reduce the threat of superbugs, but it comes down to acting promptly. If we don’t, it could cause serious repercussions for all of humanity. Once superbugs become commonplace and begin to affect everyone, antibiotics become useless for all of us.

image: Pixa bay/PublicDomainPictures

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