Nightmare superbugs

A GAME changing discovery in medicine by 25-year-old Lam Shu Jie on a possible alternative to antibiotics is a significant breakthough in the world of medicine.

But what really are superbugs and antibiotics? Malay Mail’s VANESSA EE-LYN GOMES explains.

What are superbugs?

Superbugs are bacteria that have developed a resistance to antibiotics.

Why is it dangerous?

Infections caused by these bacteria are harder to treat, although they are not necessarily more severe or infectious.

How do they develop this resistance?

Resistance arises through one of three ways:

* Natural resistance in certain types of bacteria;

* Genetic mutation; or

* By one species acquiring resistance from another.

Why are medical professionals concerned about superbugs?

The gene that carries antibiotic resistance can be passed between bacteria, allowing for the creation of bacteria that carry resistance genes to many different antibiotics.

How many deaths are caused by superbugs?

Superbugs cause an estimated 700,000 deaths every year.

How dangerous are superbugs?

If no action is taken, scientists say these numbers could rise dramatically, causing more deaths than cancer by 2050. Lacking effective antibiotics would mean common procedures, such as treating wounds, giving birth and undergoing surgery, could become fatal.

What is usually used to try and fight superbugs?

Colistin is the antibiotic of last resort for particularly dangerous types of superbugs, including a family of bacteria known as CRE, which health officials have dubbed “nightmare bacteria”.

Types of superbugs

Klebsiella pneumoniae — The bacteria can infect the lungs and lead to pneumonia. The bacteria can also infect wounds or surgical sites, or spread through the body via blood infections.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) — A strain of bacteria that’s resistant to antibiotics used to treat typical staph infections. The bacteria can spread by touching, as often occurs in hospitals.

Clostridium difficile bacteria — Usually found in the intestines. Healthy people who have enough “good” bacteria in their intestines may not get sick from it but those with weak immune systems, the germ can cause a number of symptoms, such as diarrhoea or life-threatening inflammation of the colon.

Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR TB) — A rare type of TB that is resistant to a number of antibiotic drugs. This resistance leaves fewer treatment options available, which can increase the risk of death.

Drug-resistant Gonorrhea — Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease that is caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) — Lives in the guts of animals such as cattle, goats, sheep, deer and elk. Humans can become infected by eating contaminated food, drinking raw milk or contaminated water, coming in contact with cattle or with the faeces of infected people.

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