Superbugs Are Still Hiding in Hospitals

Superbugs is a name given to drug-resistant bacteria.  While no illness is a good one, an infection with superbugs is really bad because regular antibiotics are ineffective.  Drug resistance develops through the process of natural selection.  Normal bugs are exposed to antibiotics.  If the antibiotics are not strong enough or are not administered for long enough, some of the bugs will survive and pass their resistant genes on to their offspring.  Maybe the first set of survivors may not be truly antibiotic resistant but after a few more generations of exposure, the resulting descendants are.  One of the most common places for bugs to be exposed to drugs and to develop resistance is the hospital.

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Hospitals know this and have been trying to rid themselves of superbugs but the bugs are built to last.  While hospitals have not been successful in eliminating the bugs, at least they know where they are hiding:  they are in the drains and housekeeping storage closets.  In fact the greatest concentration of superbugs is found in the drains of the ICU.  The bugs thrive in the warm, moist atmosphere of the drain pipes and the waste water of the housekeeping closet.  They coat themselves with a film which separates them from the fluids flowing through the drainpipes.  The film protects them from whatever the hospitals put in the drains to kill the bugs.

The good news is that the superbugs have not been found on surfaces that patients touch.  They are not on the doorknobs, the bed rails or on wheelchairs.  The bad news is that sometimes liquids splash back from the drain when a sink is being used and land on a nurse or doctor, who then carries the superbugs to the patient.  The other bad news is that those patients who are most susceptible to superbug infections are to be found in the ICU or the NICU, where the superbugs are most common.

Hospitals are continuing to study the problem and do what they can but superbugs are with us and are not likely going anywhere soon, except maybe home with us when we leave the hospital.  All you can do is practice good hygiene and insist that anyone who is going to touch you has thoroughly washed their hands.  You can also look to see what sort of infection rates your hospital has and, if they are high and another hospital is available to you, think about receiving your care there.


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