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Superbugs: What you should know about antibiotic resistance

Woman blowing her nose at work - Superbugs, or antibiotic-resistant bacteria
“Superbugs” aren’t as common as a cold. The term refers to the very small group of bacteria that are resistant to most types of antibiotics.

“Superbug” is a scary word for people with chronic illnesses who are frequently hospitalized. It refers to bacterial infections that are hard to treat because they are resistant to most types of antibiotics.

Patients and health care providers should take precautions to prevent antibiotic-resistant infections, but patients don’t need to panic.

“These bacteria aren’t causing more infections or worse infections,” said Dr. Matthew Hall, a Marshfield Clinic Health System infectious disease specialist. “The infections are more difficult to treat because there are fewer antibiotic options. However, there is a very small group of bacteria for which there are no good treatments.”

Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis is an example of an infection with no good treatment options. Thankfully, patients in Wisconsin aren’t likely to get this type of serious infection.

MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is sometimes called a superbug, but there are still antibiotics to treat it. Even the non-resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus can cause serious infections.

Infectious disease doctors are on your side

You should see an infectious disease doctor if you develop a resistant infection. These specialists work with other members of your health care team to make a plan to treat your infection and prevent complications.

You may need to follow up with the infectious disease doctor after you leave the hospital to make sure your infection is controlled or hasn’t returned.

Ask about antibiotics

Overuse of antibiotics contributes to resistance. Patients can do their part by asking questions about antibiotics they’re prescribed.

If you receive any antibiotic for any reason, ask if you really need it,” Hall said. “Antibiotics aren’t always needed for a cough. Sometimes leaving your doctor’s office without a prescription is appropriate.”

In the hospital, ask what antibiotic you’re receiving, what diagnosis it’s needed for, and how long you need to take it.

Hospitals are doing their part

Hospitals and health care providers are aware of antibiotic resistance and are taking steps to prevent patients from getting infections.

Hand washing is the cornerstone of prevention,” Hall said. “Health care providers should clean their hands before and after contact with patients or medical instruments.”

Hospitals follow policies designed to ensure appropriate antibiotic use. An antibiotic stewardship team approves the use of certain antibiotics before they’re given to patients. After 3-5 days of antibiotic use, the prescribing provider reviews the diagnosis to make sure the drug being used is still appropriate. The provider must let the pharmacy know if the patient will continue using the antibiotic.

Antibiotic resistance isn’t as problematic in the Midwest as it is in other parts of the country and the world. Even so, patients and providers should take precautions when using antibiotics.

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