Threat of a drug-resistant ‘superbug’ is ‘very real’
For years, the medical community has been warning that the overuse of antibiotics will allow bacteria to mutate and become drug-resistant. In fact, there are now mounting concerns that a drug resistant "superbug" epidemic could be on the horizon.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about half a million people are contracting C. difficile every year, a drug resistant bacteria that can lead to severe diarrhea, pseudomembranous colitis, toxic megacolon and even death.
Dr. Ted Louie, an infectious disease expert with the Medical Society of New Jersey, affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and Saint Peter’s University Hospital and Highland Park Medical, says the risk of a superbug epidemic is certainly very real.
“Viruses can certainly spread quickly, we have virtually no antibiotics against those, and bacteria we do have antibiotics for, but sometimes a limited number, so it’s going to come back to perhaps quarantining people, limiting contact with sick people, just infection control," the doctor said. “In the old days we had quarantines, and in the future we’re going to have to quarantine again.”
Louie says hospital workers are especially vulnerable to a variety of superbugs that have become drug-resistant.
“They can get them in their skin, they can get pneumonia, urinary tract infections, blood infections, all practitioners are painfully aware of this. There are epidemics of bacteria that are very tough for us to control, sometimes they make the news, sometimes they don’t, the doctors are painfully aware of them," he said.
So why has this situation become so dire?
According to Louie, part of the reason why drugs haven’t been developed to treat superbugs is antibiotic drugs are not very profitable.
“In the last couple of years, approximately one new antibiotic has been approved by the FDA per year,” he said. “We see a very dangerous situation where we need new antibiotics, and yet we’re only getting a trickle.”
He said it’s especially important to try and stop superbugs from spreading outside of the hospital setting.
"Hospitals are very aware nowadays that you have to isolate certain patients, what we call contact isolation in order to enter the room we will force people to wear gowns and gloves," he said.