What are superbugs, and how can I protect myself from infection?

Answer From James M. Steckelberg, M.D.

"Superbugs" is a term used to describe strains of bacteria that are resistant to the majority of antibiotics commonly used today. Resistant bacteria that cause pneumonia, urinary tract infections and skin infections are just a few of the dangers we now face.

Antibiotic resistance is a naturally occurring phenomenon that can be slowed, but not stopped. Over time, bacteria adapt to the drugs that are designed to kill them and change to ensure their survival. This makes previously standard treatments for bacterial infections less effective, and in some cases, ineffective.

Certain actions may accelerate the emergence and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as:

  • Using or misusing antibiotics
  • Having poor infection prevention and control practices
  • Living or working in unsanitary conditions
  • Mishandling food

To protect yourself from harmful bacteria, wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Healthy lifestyle habits, such as eating a proper diet, proper food handling, getting enough exercise and establishing good sleeping patterns, also can minimize the risk of illness.

You can also help tackle antibiotic resistance by:

  • Using antibiotics as directed and only when needed
  • Completing the full treatment course, even if you feel better
  • Never sharing antibiotics with others
  • Never using leftover prescriptions
Feb. 20, 2018 See more Expert Answers