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A List of Superbugs for Infection Preventionists

Jun 12, 2019 10:00:00 AM    posted in Infection Prevention

When we’re discussing the frightening phenomenon of superbugs, we’re not talking about a single source of sickness. Just as pathogenic microbes – bugs – are different from one another, so are superbugs. Each superbug is in effect a less treatable, thus more lethal, version of an existing microbe.

Many of the superbugs are bacteria that have grown resistant to antibiotics. Statistics from The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicate that at least 2 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and 23,000 die. Additionally, other forms of superbugs are beginning to emerge and compound this massive public health problem.

The following list of 10 circulating superbugs will help you appreciate how multifaceted and serious the problem is for infection preventionists – and all of us.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)

Even casual athletes or gym-goers have probably heard horror stories of MRSA turning minor abrasions and cuts into tough-to-treat blisters, boils, and worse. It’s one of the most common superbugs, with the staphylococcus (“staph”) bacteria beginning to exhibit antibiotic resistance as far back as the 1940s and 1950s, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIH). MRSA has continued to become more resistant, and more dangerous, ever since.

Clostridium difficile(C.diff)

C.diff makes the already unpleasant experience of gastrointestinal difficulty life-threatening. Transmitted via contaminated surfaces, such as bathroom door handles, the infection can be not only deadly – especially for the elderly – but can be recurring according to a CDC fact sheet.

Fluconazole-resistant Candida

Not all drug-resistant microbes are bacteria. As viruses, fungi and even parasites find their own methods of outmaneuvering conventional therapies, fungi like fluconazole-resistant Candida are joining the ranks of superbugs. In fact, in May an outbreak of Candida aurisin New York State grew severe enough to warrant New York Sen. Chuck Schumer to urge the CDC to issue a state of emergency declaration, according to PIX 11.

Neisseria gonorrhoeae (Gonorrhea)
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease that had – since the advent of antibiotics – been considered easily treatable. This is no longer always the case. Antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhea present with genital pain, swelling and pus; symptoms that might not clear up with a pill.

Multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter

The appearance of variations of antibiotic-resistant Acinetobacter has been a troubling development in healthcare. A recent study cites it as a prime source of dangerous hospital-acquired infections transmitted through respiratory assistance equipment and catheters.

Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis (TB) was a scourge of the pre-antibiotic world, with outbreaks leading to waves of people experiencing high fevers, coughing up blood and dying. The emergence of resistant variations of this disease is alarming given its destructive history – especially, as the WHO points out, in urban environments.

Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE)

CRE is another life-threatening infection that spreads through healthcare environments. As Reuters explains, after the best defensive antibiotics fail, caregivers are forced to treat infected patients with older drugs with potentially toxic side effects.

Drug-resistant Campylobacter

Nobody likes eating undercooked poultry. With drug-resistant foodborne campylobacter, though, a drumstick that’s a little pink can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and other GI symptoms that can’t be easily remedied.

Drug-resistant Salmonella typhi (Typhoid Fever)  

While modern hygiene practices have all but banished typhoid fever from developed countries, it is another dangerous disease that could experience a resurgence due to its growing drug resistance.

Drug-resistant Shigella

Travelers and people working in childcare facilities are some of the populations most at risk to Shigella. While not often lethal, the highly unpleasant infection is often treated with antibiotics to reduce the duration of severe diarrhea. In 2015, the CDC reported an influx of a new strain impervious to ciprofloxacin.

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