Seniors and Superbugs
Antibiotics are one of the marvels of modern medicine – they kill bacteria and stop infections in their tracks. In fact, we can thank our longevity in the modern era to the success of antibiotics. However, imagine now a world where the bacteria have out-foxed the antibiotic and are wreaking havoc with spreading ever more virulent diseases that can even lead to death. This is the world of the superbug and these dangerous pathogens are on the rise. It turns out that the explosion of global travel coupled with our love affair with antibiotics and our misuse and overuse of them have contributed to a massive antimicrobial resistance.
Consider the everyday food that we eat. Antibiotics are used in livestock feed, which in turn passes into our bodies when we eat the meat. How about that antibiotic prescription you got from your health care provider (HCP) for symptoms of a cold – likely due to a virus and not a bacteria? Unnecessary prescribing is a major contributor to developing drug resistance. Have you ever started an antibiotic and not completed the full course? Yes, that’s another leg up for the superbug. Seniors are especially vulnerable to superbugs because of increasing age, weakened immune systems and being exposed more frequently to environments like hospitals and nursing facilities where superbugs can lurk. So, what can be done?
Part of the solution to the problem will be for our scientists to develop new and more powerful antibiotics, but this is only one approach and will take a long time. Prevention is the best cure in the short term. Here are some tips to reduce your exposure to superbugs.
Practice good hygiene. Washing your hands regularly with warm water and soap is one of the most effective ways in preventing infections. Make sure to thoroughly wash after using the bathroom, before and after preparing food, after gardening or other messy tasks, and after blowing your nose or sneezing. If soap and water are not accessible, consider carrying a hand sanitizer.
Get vaccinated. You are more susceptible to superbug infections if you have the flu, pneumonia or shingles. Superbugs thrive off a weak immune system so check with your HCP to make sure you and your loved one are up to date with all your vaccines.
Take antibiotics appropriately. Take antibiotics only when absolutely necessary as prescribed by your HCP. Follow the exact directions of the prescription and complete the full course even if you start to feel better after one or two days. If you are concerned about side effects of an antibiotic, discuss with your HCP about next steps before abruptly stopping. In the case of a potential allergic reaction, stopping the medication immediately is warranted.
Be food safety conscious. In some cases, a superbug enters the body through ingesting foods that have been contaminated with bacteria, like salmonella, E. coli or listeria. To reduce the risk of contamination, make sure to wash all your fruits and vegetables and thoroughly cook meats, poultry and fish. If possible, buy organic foods and purchase meat that is verified by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) as antibiotic free.
Check in with your HCP! If you are experiencing chills, fever and feeling progressively worse over a number of days, call your HCP or go to an urgent care facility. Your HCP will determine if and when it is appropriate for you to start an antibiotic. Depending on your clinical situation, your HCP may decide to treat you promptly if their clinical suspicions are high that you have a bacterial infection. Alternatively, they may decide to delay or withhold antibiotic treatment until they have the results of blood, urine or culture swabs tests confirming an infection.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle becomes ever more important as we age – especially with the rise of superbugs. Drink plenty of fluids, maintain regular sleep patterns, exercise regularly and eat a balanced, nutrient-rich diet to ensure your immune system stays at its best!
For more information on protecting yourself against superbugs, visit https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/protecting_yourself_family.html
Written by Anne Sansevero