Before the days of antibiotics, infections were much more deadly. Thousands died from bacterial infections, like syphilis or typhoid, that can now be cured in a few days with a few pills.
However, with the increasing use of antibiotics, bacteria are resisting more and more rapidly, which compels us to develop stronger and stronger strains. Antibiotic resistance is a hot topic in infectious disease, and it serves to threaten medical science as we know it.
USA Today recently released a report on a growing strain of deadly bacteria that is showing up in hospitals and health-care facilities across the country. Currently used antibiotics, even the ones that are reserved for highly resistant bacteria, are proving to be ineffective against these scary superbugs.
This strain of bacteria is known as CRE, carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae. They are named for their resistance to carbapenem, a “big-gun” antibiotic that we usually save as our last line of defense against resistant infections. If a germ is resistant to carbapenem, chances are it’s resistant to every antibiotic weapon we have so far.
This scary news reflects our years of battle against microorganisms that have learned to resist our ammo. Bacteria and viruses are designed to survive and evolve. If a bacteria develops a way to resist a deadly antibiotic, it survives and grows into a new antibiotic-resistant strain, compelling us humans to develop stronger antibiotics to fight them.
There have unfortunately been thousands of cases of this deadly infection arising in recent years. It can infect one’s lungs, intestines or urinary tract – causing a variety of symptoms that vary from person to person. Death rates from CRE infections can be about 40%. The victims are usually hospitalized or in nursing homes, where many antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria develop. Experts fear that CRE may spread to the general community.
The Power of Washing Your Hands
While we may have lost the power to kill certain bugs with fancy pills, one simple technique can still fight infection: hand washing. Researchers in London estimate that regular hand washing could save a million lives a year by preventing the spread of deadly germs.
Make sure you wash your hands (or at least use hand sanitizer) as frequently as possible – especially after using the restroom, before eating, and after performing any tasks that might contaminate your hands, like handling pets or working with raw meat. Health-care providers MUST wash their hands between every patient encounter in order to prevent the spread of dangerous bacteria. When visiting your doctor, notice them wash their hands before giving you a physical.
The correct hand washing technique is important as well. The CDC recommends washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday to You” two times. This video shows the proper technique for washing your hands.
The CDC considers hand washing to be “your single most important act to help stop the spread of infection and stay healthy.” Make sure you incorporate this into your daily routine to keep you and your family healthy!