Superbugs -- bacteria that are resistant to many commonly used antibiotics -- can seem scary. Antibiotic resistance means illnesses last longer, and the risk of complications and death increases.
Many factors have contributed to the emergence of superbugs, including overuse and misuse of antibiotics. One superbug, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), has been a problem in health care settings for years. In this environment, the bacteria is spread from one patient to another via the hands of care providers or by contaminated equipment.
Increasingly, MRSA is appearing outside of hospitals and is a growing threat. It can cause serious skin and soft tissue infections and a form of pneumonia. Clusters of MRSA skin infections have surfaced in certain groups of people, including athletes, children and members of the military. Risk factors in these groups include close contact, shared equipment that isn’t cleaned, cuts on the skin, crowded living conditions, contaminated clothes or towels, and poor hygiene.
The June issue of Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource offers tips to avoid superbugs:
- Wash your hands: This simple procedure, done properly, remains the best defense. Carry alcohol-based hand sanitizers for times when hand washing isn’t possible.
- Keep personal items personal: Don’t share towels, soap, sheets, razors, clothing or athletic equipment.
- Sanitize linens: If you have a cut or abrasion, wash towels and sheets with hot water and added bleach. Wash gym and athletic clothes after each use.
- Get infections tested: If an infection requires treatment, ask the care provider to take a culture to confirm what bacteria are present before you are given an antibiotic. If you test positive for a staphylococcus (staph) infection, ask that a culture be tested specifically for MRSA in case you need a special antibiotic.
- Use antibiotics appropriately: When you take antibiotics, take all doses even when you start feeling better. Don’t demand antibiotics for viral illnesses; antibiotics don’t work with viruses. Taking too many antibiotics over time could become a detriment because the medication’s effectiveness can be compromised by overuse.
- Use antibacterial products sparingly: Antibacterial soaps and cleaning products probably don’t prevent infections at home and may make these products less effective in hospitals.
- Take precautions in the hospital: Ask all hospital staff and visitors to wash their hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before touching you. Ask care providers to wipe stethoscopes and other equipment with alcohol. Don’t set food or utensils directly on tables or beds. Make sure that intravenous tubes and catheters are inserted under sterile conditions.
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