This article originally appeared in the Rutland Herald.
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60 Plus: You can help prevent superbugs
by Janis Hall
Superbugs are resistant strains of bacteria that survive our best antibiotic treatments and pose a serious health threat, especially in frail or elderly people. Every year these drug-resistant bacteria infect more than 2 million people nationwide and kill at least 23,000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Superbugs can be of special concern in facilities that serve elders.
There is growing concern that some kinds of superbugs could be developed by feeding low levels of antibiotics to food production animals, and many of us choose to counteract this trend by seeking foods from farmers who use antibiotics conservatively, and by advocating for safer farming practices.
However, there’s another cause of superbugs over which each one of us has direct control. You can make better choices for your health – at no extra expense– that will also help prevent superbugs.
Rule number one: If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, take every dose until they are all gone. Taking them just until you feel better leads to the development of superbugs.
Here’s how it works. Say you get a 10-day supply of antibiotics. After five days you feel great and stop taking them. But at this point you have not killed off every last bacteria cell. A few of the toughest ones have survived this long. And now they start breeding, creating offspring that inherit their super resistance.
Congratulations, you now have a bouncing baby superbug that’s not affected by the antibiotic you were using. If the infection re-surges, you may need a different antibiotic.
After many years of individuals stopping antibiotics early, we’re running out of antibiotics that will work on certain bacterial infections. If you have a strong system, the superbug you’re carrying probably won’t kill you. But what happens when you make a visit to a nursing home or children’s hospital? Those bacteria are chomping at the bit for a new place to explore, and could be life-threatening to frail patients.
Rule number two: If your doctor thinks you have a viral infection, don’t insist on antibiotics. They might make you feel better because they reduce inflammation, but they will not kill the virus. And meanwhile, any bacteria that happen to be present in your body will have an opportunity to develop resistance.
Rule number three: Practice careful hygiene, with frequent hand-washing and careful attention to the sanitation of items shared among family members or residents of facilities. Bleach can be used to sanitize many items. Alcohol or alcohol-based gels work for hands and other items. There are also some natural sanitizers made of plant oils that have been proven effective for hands and surfaces.
Even if you use hand sanitizers, it’s best to also wash hands with soap and warm water to remove debris. Soaps labeled as antibacterial may not be superior, and some ingredients may even cause more harm than good.
60 Plus is a collaboration between Senior Solutions of southeastern Vermont and the Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging. Both can be reached by calling the Senior HelpLine at 800-642-5119.
We’re seeking Senior Companions to visit elders in southern Vermont. These volunteers, aged 55+, get a small stipend, mileage reimbursement, and the satisfaction of making a big difference to local seniors. Learn more at http://svcoa.org/programs/senior-companion-program and www.seniorsolutionsvt.org/services/senior-companions or call the Senior HelpLine.