Are We On The Verge Of A Superbug? What You Need To Know


Facebook, along with the news, has lit up with word that a superbug resistant to all known antibiotics has been found in the United States. This isn’t the first time we’ve gotten word a superbug is in the U.S., but how worried should you be? Here’s what you need to know.

What Is This Superbug?

It’s a strain of E. Coli that’s resistant to Colistin, a “last resort” antibiotic that’s only given when all other antibiotics fail due to the potential for kidney and nerve damage. Basically, if that doesn’t work, as far as we’re concerned with bacterial infections, doctors are back to uses leeches and hot cups to treat infection.

Who Did It Infect?

The good news is, so far, nobody has become sick. The bug was found in the urine sample of a Pennsylvania woman and a piece of pig intestine the government is tracking the source of. Really, the issue isn’t that anyone’s infected, it’s that this thing exists at all. In theory, if it runs into other E. coli with resistance to antibiotics, they could share characteristics and then we’re really in trouble.

How Worried Should I Be?

Concerned, but not panicked. This is one case, not even a serious infection, and it’s not clear that it will spiral out into a larger problem. The main concern is that if the resistance spreads to other strains, people could start dying from bacterial infections, something we’ve managed to make less and less of an issue.

Are There Any New Antibiotics On The Way?

There are. The issue is that doctors and pharmaceutical companies largely haven’t seen antibiotics as a growth field, so they’ve been funding hair growth creams and the like. That, obviously, is about to change; the government is likely going to approve more antibiotics and begin streamlining the process of getting them created and on the market. The FDA is already being encouraged to accept smaller datasets to approve a drug as safe, which is something of a separate issue. But make no mistake, we’re not out of antibiotics, we simply need to get more of them on the market.

What About Treatments That Don’t Need Antibiotics?

There are several such treatments in the works. One pairs an antibiotic with a drug that lowers or erases the resistance a bacteria has to a specific antibiotic. Others basically overstimulate the bacteria until they fall apart. There’s also phage therapy, which is using a bacteria to kill another bacteria, and of course, vaccines. In the case of E. coli, vaccination isn’t a useful tool, but for other bugs, it may be the best option.

For Now, What Should I Do?

Practice standard first aid on injuries, including disinfecting them, and simply don’t use antibiotics unless you absolutely have to. Antibiotics don’t work against the cold or the flu, which are caused by viruses. If you’ve got an ear infection, use antibiotic eardrops, don’t take oral antibiotics. You really shouldn’t be doing that in the first place, as antibiotics can have a host of side effects. And, again, don’t panic. This is a problem and a point of concern, but it’s not a threat to public health yet.