Recently we’ve outlined the top 5 pathogens that could evolve into a pandemic. But how does a virus get to this point? On the microscopic scale, the heartiest life forms are quickly separated from the rest of the pack. Disinfection techniques like antibacterial soap and antibiotics work against many types of bacteria, but not all. Those left unaffected by these methods will continue to multiply while the other, lesser bacteria die out. Ultimately, what’s left will be only the bacteria that can resist common disinfection solutions – which will continue to grow and spread uninterrupted.
At least that’s what some scientists are afraid of. Increasingly, superbugs – bacterial diseases that can withstand antibiotics – have proven that the scientific community’s fallback methods for disease control are no longer foolproof. Several bugs have developed resistance to the most common antibiotics, and they’re only getting hardier.
How does a regular bug become a superbug?
- It was born with it. Some bacteria have natural resistance to certain antibiotics.
- A mutation occurs. Spontaneous mutations are rare – they may happen to 1 in 10 million cells. But some mutations allow bacteria to fight an antibody it was once susceptible to, either by producing enzymes, blocking the antibiotic target area, denying the antibiotic access or expelling the antibiotic once it gets inside.
- It gains resistance from other bacteria. Bacteria can gain different genetic traits through conjugation, viral transfer, or by picking up DNA from their surroundings.
When someone uses antibiotics, it places pressure on the bacteria population to develop resistance or be killed. Those that survive are able to multiply or pass on their traits, creating a denser selection of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or superbugs.
The superbugs are getting stronger
Some superbugs are commonly known – like MRSA, which stands for Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus. This is a staph infection with additional resistance to Methicillin, making it more difficult to contain. But new, potentially dangerous superbugs arise more and more frequently.
In Beijing, China, scientists discovered a gene that allows bacteria to become resistant to polymyxins, which are powerful antibiotics and one of the last lines of defense for those seeking antibiotic treatment, reported The Economic Times’ Health World. The gene, mcr-1, was found to be common in the Enterobacteriacaea in pigs and patients in China. In addition, the researchers found mcr-1 on plasmids, a kind of DNA that is easily transferred between bacteria.
“New, potentially dangerous superbugs arise more and more frequently.”
“Our results reveal the emergence of the first polymyxin resistance gene that is readily passed between common bacteria such as Escherichia coli and Klesbsiella pneumoniae, suggesting that the progression from extensive drug resistance to pandrug resistance is inevitable,” explained study author Jian-Hua Liu.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., the instances of a superbug nicknamed “the phantom menace” are on the rise, according to a report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. The bacteria is part of the Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae or CRE family – yes, that’s the same Enterobacteriaceae that showed polymxin resistance in China.
The superbug is less resistant than other strains, but is difficult to detect and has a high mortality rate – up to 50 percent of patients infected ultimately die.
“This is a tricky drug-resistant bacteria, and it isn’t easily found,” CDC director Thomas Frieden said in an interview, according to The Washington Post. “What we’re seeing is an assault by the microbes on the last bastion of antibiotics.”
What this could also mean is the greater potential for epidemics and pandemics. That’s why it’s increasingly important for health officials to stress the use of more modern disinfection solutions. Where traditional disinfectants are ineffective, SteraMist™ BIT™ will prove to be an asset for broad-spectrum surface, and complete room disinfection.