Super bugs

Seven things YOU can do to combat antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest public health threats of our time. CORRECTIV reporters have been covering superbugs for more than two years. Here are the seven things they've learned that we can all do to help fight drug resistant bugs.

von Victoria Parsons

Realistic rendering of bacteria - in red colors

1. Wash your hands

Photo credit: Jar [o] licensed under Creative Commons

Wash them properly. Every time your hands look visibly dirty, after every time you use the bathroom, and every time before you eat or prepare food.

Washing your hands reduces the spread of bacteria and protects you from infections. Cleaning them regularly is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick, and stops the spread of bugs from you to the people you come into contact with.

Read more of CORRECTIV’s tips on hand washing here.

2. Do what your doctor says when you’re prescribed antibiotics

Photo credit: licensed under Creative Commons

For decades, the advice has been that it’s essential that you finish taking your prescribed course of antibiotics, even if you feel better and your symptoms have gone away.

This was said to be because if you stop taking an antibiotic partway through the treatment it gives the bug an opportunity to develop resistance to the antibiotic. This resistant bug can then spread, making the antibiotics less effective in treating them.

However, some scientists are now questioning this longstanding refrain. They say that actually, you should stop taking the antibiotics as soon as you feel better – because any exposure of the bugs to the drugs creates resistance.

Our take on this? Follow the instructions your doctor gives you when he prescribes antibiotics. And maybe ask him what he thinks about the debate over this bit of science.

Source: UK National Health Service

3. Cook and handle meat properly

Photo credit: Kyle Brammer licensed under Creative Commons

Some antibiotic-resistant infections come from food – like salmonella, campylobacter and E. Coli. When farm animals are given antibiotics, bugs that are resistant to the drugs can survive treatment. These resistant bugs can multiply in the animals guts and remain on the meat.

Raw meat can contaminate your meal with resistant germs. When cooking meat, wash your hands before and after. Handle the meat properly: don’t use chopping boards or knives that have touched uncooked meat on other parts of the meal.

Raw meat must be stored at a low enough temperature. Don’t handle raw meat if you have open cuts on your hands. Read more of CORRECTIV’s tips on handling raw meat here.

Source: CDC

4. Take care when visiting friends and family in hospital

Photo credit: dreamingofariz licensed under Creative Commons

You should wash your hands before you enter their room and after you leave it. This helps avoid spreading germs around the hospital.

Doctors and nurses should also wash their hands before touching every patient – and it’s okay to check that they’ve done this. In fact, in the United States, hospitals encourage patients to ask their doctors if they’ve washed their hands. Some doctors and nurses even wear badges to show they want to be asked and reminded.

Be aware that wearing rings or fake fingernails gives bugs a good spot to hide. Make sure you wash these very carefully.

Read more hospital visiting tips from CORRECTIV here.

5. Think twice before requesting antibiotics for a cough or a cold

Photo credit: Rebecca Brown licensed under Creative Commons

Viral infections like coughs and colds, flu, sore throats and bronchitis cannot be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics do not fight infections that are caused by viruses directly, only those that are caused by bacteria.

To combat antibiotic resistance we all have to use antibiotics appropriately and responsibly. If you take antibiotics for a cough, sore throat or flu, they usually won’t make you feel better. They also won’t stop other people from catching your cold, and you may end up contributing to the problem of antibiotic resistance.

This is because you’ll kill harmless bacteria when you take antibiotics for your cold, and leave antibiotic-resistant bacteria behind. These resistant bugs can then spread.

Source: CDC

6. Stay up to date with vaccinations

Photo credit: NIAID licensed under Creative Commons

Staying healthy and preventing disease is key to fighting antibiotic resistance. It’s better to prevent a disease than to treat it.

Vaccines protect you and the people you come into contact with. Many of the infectious disease that were once common – like polio, measles, whooping cough, German measles, mumps and tetanus – are now controlled with vaccinations. Vaccines have prevented countless cases of infectious disease and saved millions of lives.

Keep your vaccines up to date, and if you travel abroad check to see if you need vaccinations. Make sure you get them in time.

Source: CDC

7. Prevent the spread of Sexually Transmitted Infections

Photo credit: Jenny Koske licensed under Creative Commons

Common sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) like chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are caused by bacteria and usually treated with antibiotics. However, these STI’s are becoming more difficult to treat. This is because they are often undiagnosed, and because the antibiotics used to treat them are beginning to fail.

Resistance has increased rapidly in recent years, especially with gonorrhea. Strains of multi-drug resistant gonorrhea that do not respond to any available antibiotic have been detected by doctors. Untreated or untreatable STI’s can have serious, long term consequences on your health.

Reduce your risk of catching an STI. Use protection with your partner, get tested regularly, and know the symptoms. Learn more about drug-resistant STI’s and what you can do to combat them here.

Source: WHO and CDC