Antibiotics can certainly save lives. But their overuse allowed untreatable, antibiotic-resistant superbugs to develop.
One of the deadliest superbugs–called Clostridium difficile (C. difficile)–causes about 250,000 infections and leads to nearly 14,000 deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It also costs the health care system at least $1 billion each year. In a moment, I’ll tell you about five steps you can take to defend against C. difficile.
The term C. difficile comes from the Latin word meaning “difficult.” And that word certainly applies here. The main symptom with C. difficile is deadly, dehydrating diarrhea (like cholera).
People who take antibiotic drugs are most at risk of getting a C. difficile infection because the drugs wipe out the good bacteria of the normal, healthy microbiome. These good bacteria influence digestion, nutrition, and inflammation, and probably other health factors, in addition to protecting against infectious diarrhea.
Age is also a factor. In fact, according to a new CDC study, one in every three C. difficile infections occurs in people ages 65 years and older. Plus, more than 100,000 cases occur in U.S. nursing homes, spreading from the hands and medical equipment of health professionals. Hospital surfaces are also rife with dangerous bacteria.
Unfortunately, the problem is only getting worse.
In fact, between 2000 and 2010, C. difficile-related hospitalizations doubled. And the rate is still climbing. The CDC attributes part of the dramatic increase to a dangerous new strain of C. difficile called NAP1.
Experts say antibiotics are clearly driving the whole problem. Yet poor detection and diagnostic methods also play a part. For example, in one recent case, a healthy 56-year-old woman developed sudden, painful diarrhea one morning. After a phone consultation, her doctor prescribed the wrong treatment. She went to the emergency room and died less than 36 hours later.
So until the CDC figures out how to turn the tide (don’t hold your breath), I suggest you focus on prevention.
Here are some common sense, preventative steps you can take to protect yourself from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Your choices will also help stem this growing public health problem:
- Practice good hygiene. The simplest step you can take is to wash hands well with regular soap (not antibacterial agents!) and water. If you can’t get to a wash basin, use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
- Don’t take antibiotics unless you have a bacterial infection that requires treatment with an antibiotic. The best way to determine whether you really need an antibiotic–and which one(s)–is for your doctor to take a sample of the infected area. For example, take a swab of your sore throat and then submit it to the lab to (a) detect the presence of bacteria, (b) determine which bacteria and (c) test to see which antibiotics will work against it. Without taking these steps, it’s guesswork.
- If your doctor determines you do have an infection and need an antibiotic, take the full dose for the full course of treatment. Up to one-third of the time, patients don’t take prescriptions correctly. And inappropriate practices double the use of antibiotics without any clinical benefit whatsoever.
- Only choose “organic” meat and dairy that comes from animals raised without antibiotics.
- Keep your immune system in good working order. This step is probably the single most important thing you can do for your health. Unfortunately, it’s also probably the single most overlooked step in fighting deadly “superbugs.”
You can keep your immune system healthy by taking a high-quality daily B vitamin complex, 500 mg of vitamin C twice per day, and 10,000 IU of vitamin D daily. Also, get selenium and zinc in your diet from healthy meats and seafood.
You can also boost your immune system when coming down with a cold or flu by taking the herb Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower). I’ll give you all the details in the October 2015 Insiders’ Cures newsletter.
So while the CDC continues to wring its hands about C. difficile, keep washing yours. And follow my other simple, sensible advice for good health and immunity. After all, the best offense we have against deadly superbugs is still a good defense.
- “Antibiotic resistance,” Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov) 9/16/2013
- “Clostridium difficile Infection,” N Engl J Med 2015; 372:1539-1548