Superbugs refer to strains of bacteria that cannot be killed using multiple antibiotics. Per the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), roughly 2 million people get sick from superbugs every year and about 23,000 of them die. An elderly American woman died in the US recently after having contracted an infection while being treated for a thigh bone fracture in India two years ago. Tests showed no drug or combination of drugs available in the US would have cured the infection. But where did these superbugs come from and why are they a problem now?
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the ability of a microbe to resist the effects of medication previously used to treat them. It is a result of misusing antibiotics and evolution at work. Misusing antibiotics is when antibiotics are taken when they aren’t needed or not finished when they are needed. This leads to antibiotics becoming less effective for future bacterial infections and the development of antibiotic resistance genes. Studies have found that after just one course of antibiotics, the risk of having organisms with AMR increases by 50%. This is the most important factor contributing to AMRs.
Antibiotic resistance in bacteria is also the result of evolution with vertical transmission, or natural selection. If there are any mutations that increase an individual’s ability to survive and reproduce, it is favored through natural selection and passed down from parent to offspring. There is also evolution with horizontal transfer, where bacteria acquire new DNA from each other in the form of plasmids. Plasmids can be passed on to any bacteria regardless of how closely they are related to each other.
Many strains of bacteria have evolved into deadly superbugs that are highly resistant to many antibiotics. Those with healthy immune systems are now susceptible as well. No new classes of antibiotics have reached the market in 30 years and without high incentive, large pharmaceutical companies are less motivated to solve this global challenge.
The WHO (World Health Organization) has published a list of twelve antibiotic resistant ‘priority pathogens’. All Priority 1 Pathogens are uncommon amongst healthy people but are extremely drug resistant and lethal to the infected. At the very top of the list is A. baumannii, commonly referred to as the Iraqibacter, which has been plaguing veterans and soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Iraqibacter has also spread to civilian hospitals via infected soldier transportation to necessary medical facilities.
Superbugs are increasingly prevalent and resistance to last line of defense drugs. It is imperative that AMRs are recognized as an international issue and immediate actions be taken. Pharmaceutical companies must recognize the possible upcoming epidemic and begin research on new forms of antibiotics. The general populace must be brought to a greater awareness of their own contributions to antibiotic resistant bacteria. WHO has already approved of an AMR global action blueprint plan that can be tailor fitted to every countries’ individual needs. However, these plans must be implemented and taken seriously to have full effectivity. Real change is required to stop this global issue.
Eloit, M., Dr, Chan, M., Dr, & Graziano da Silva, J. (2016, September 21). Superbugs: Why We Need Action Now. Retrieved February 28, 2017
Miller, K. (2015, April 17). Superbugs: What They Are and How You Get Them. Retrieved February 28, 2017