What are superbugs, and how can I protect myself from infection?
Answer From Pritish K. Tosh, M.D.
Superbugs are strains of bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi that are resistant to most of the antibiotics and other medications commonly used to treat the infections they cause. A few examples of superbugs include resistant bacteria that can cause pneumonia, urinary tract infections and skin infections.
Drug resistance (antimicrobial resistance) is a naturally occurring phenomenon that can be slowed, but not stopped. Over time, germs such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi adapt to the drugs that are designed to kill them and change to ensure their survival. This makes previously standard treatments for some infections less effective, and sometimes ineffective. Researchers continue to evaluate how these germs develop resistance. They also study how to diagnose, treat and prevent antimicrobial resistance.
Certain actions may step up the appearance and spread of antimicrobial-resistant germs, such as:
- Using or misusing antibiotics
- Having poor infection prevention and control practices
- Living or working in unclean conditions
- Mishandling food
To protect yourself from harmful germs and lower the risk of illnesses:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Handle food properly, such as separating raw and cooked food, cooking food thoroughly, and using clean water
- Avoid close contact with people who are ill
- Make sure your vaccinations are up to date
You can also help tackle antibiotic resistance by:
- Using antibiotics as directed and only when needed
- Completing the full treatment course, even if you feel better
- Not sharing antibiotics with others
- Not using leftover prescriptions
Pritish K. Tosh, M.D.
March 20, 2020
- About antimicrobial resistance. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/about.html. Accessed Oct. 10, 2019.
- How antibiotic resistance happens. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/about/how-resistance-happens.html. Accessed Oct. 10, 2019.
- Antimicrobial (drug) resistance. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. https://www.niaid.nih.gov/research/antimicrobial-resistance. Accessed Oct. 10, 2019.
- Antimicrobial resistance. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/antimicrobial-resistance. Accessed Oct. 9, 2019.
- Protecting yourself and your family. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/protecting_yourself_family.html. Accessed Oct. 10, 2019.
- Bennett JE, et al. Emerging and reemerging infectious disease threats. In: Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Elsevier; 2020. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Oct. 10, 2019.
- Antibiotic resistance. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/antibiotic-resistance. Accessed Oct. 10, 2019.