If you follow the news at all, you’ve heard of MRSA, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. It’s the superbug infection that mostly attacks people with compromised immune systems — the elderly, anyone with an autoimmune disease, someone who has just had surgery or has any form of open wound. The majority of MRSA is contracted in hospitals. In the past year or so, others have acquired MRSA and other superbugs in the community.
As a reminder, what makes a superbug is the bacteria’s ability to overcome any medicine developed to kill it. Methicillin was developed to kill difficult, hospital acquired strains of bacteria, and it was saving lives…. until the bugs it was killing figured out how to be stronger than the methicillin.
People began getting sicker and dying, by the tens of thousands each year, because no medicine was available to help them. Still today, estimates tell us that in the US alone, 1.7 million hospital patients are acquiring infections in the hospital. They are admitted for one thing (disease, surgery) and get sicker from the infection than when they went in. Almost 100,000 of them don’t make it out alive.
Enter vancomycin — an even stronger antibiotic — and found to treat MRSA in some patients effectively. It’s the drug of last resort being given to the sickest of the MRSA and otherwise infected patients in hospitals when other antibiotics won’t work — although sometimes it’s not enough either….
But now it seems that Darwin has won out again. Doctors in Michigan report Vancomycin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus — a new superbug that has overcome the antibiotic of last resort, vancomycin. Just like humans fighting a battle in war, and winning against their enemy, this superbug has figured out how to survive the efforts of vancomycin to kill it — and is now stronger, and so far, unbeatable.
So far in Michigan, nine patients have been identified with MRSA. They are chronically ill with diabetes or kidney disease. To date, none of them have died. But their doctors fear the VRSA will make it into their blood streams which will doom them. Vancomycin was the drug of last resort, and now it’s not good enough.
What this means for all of us is that we need to be even more cautious than we’ve been to now. Superbugs will continue to get stronger and overcome whatever we humans develop to kill them. It’s a war against germs — and right now some of those germs are winning.
Become aware of the steps necessary to protect yourself from them — insisting your healthcare providers wash their hands before touching you, at the very least.
Even if you don’t have a chronic disease, you need to remember that those superbugs have only one goal — to survive longer than you do.