However, antibiotics are not foolproof. Bacteria, when exposed to antibiotic drugs, can learn how to resist them. These resistant bacteria are known as superbugs, which are harder for antibiotics to kill.
Recently, superbugs have become a greater and far more serious concern. In March 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning about a new class of superbugs called Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), which can cause dangerous infections that can get into the bloodstream – and kill up to 50 percent of people when they do.
So what can you do about it?
“The best way to keep yourself healthy is to be proactive,” says Steve Kennedy, director of infusion pharmacy services at Walgreens Infusion Services. “While there’s no foolproof way to ensure you don’t get a superbug infection, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.”
To reduce your risk for CRE and other superbug infections, the CDC suggests taking the following actions:
* Be diligent about hand washing. Keeping your hands clean reduces the transfer of bacteria, so this is an easy first step to take to help prevent infections. If you change wound dressings or bandages or handle medical devices, it’s extra important to keep your hands clean.
* Take prescriptions as directed. If your doctor has prescribed oral antibiotics, follow the doctor’s instructions on how long to take them. These instructions typically include that you should not skip doses or stop the course of treatment early. In addition, the CDC recommends that if you have leftover pills after you’ve completed your course of antibiotics, you should not save them or share them with anyone else. Instead, dispose of them in a safe and effective manner.
* Be a critical consumer. The CDC urges patients not to take antibiotics unless their doctors think they really need them. One of the best ways to keep antibiotics working – and to keep superbugs from getting worse – is to ensure they’re used only when needed. Remember that antibiotics do not work when you have a virus (like a cold or the flu), and sometimes infections caused by bacteria can clear up on their own. Patients should discuss with their doctors whether they really need prescriptions and avoid taking antibiotics if they are not necessary.
* When possible, keep your hospital stay as short as possible or stay out of the hospital. Hospitals are life-saving institutions, but they also concentrate a lot of sick people in one place. This can increase your risk of catching a superbug. In many cases, therapy provided in the hospital can be given in a different and oftentimes more convenient setting, like a non-hospital medical center or even in your home. Patients should ask their doctors if their hospital-based therapy can be provided somewhere else. For example, if you are on clinical nutrition support (receiving food through a feeding tube or an IV), your therapy could be provided at home through a home health services provider. Of course, patients should follow their doctors’ orders and seek treatment at whichever facility their doctors suggest. However, if doctors believe home health care is the best option, Walgreens Infusion Services, which offers home infusion in all 50 states, may be able to provide the necessary services to patients.
* Be proactive with your health care providers. No matter where you’re receiving medical care, make sure all those who help care for you (from doctors to nurses to family members) wash their hands before they touch you. Soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub will do the trick.
For more information about CRE and other superbugs, visit www.cdc.gov/HAI/organisms/cre.