The Misuse of Antibiotics is Creating Frightful New Breeds of Superbacteria

by Sylvan Bachhuber, age 14

The misuse and overuse of antibiotics has created new strains of more resistant, and even deadly bacteria. Recently, the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a list of the three most urgent antibiotic-caused bacteria: Clostridium difficile (C. diff), Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), and drug-resistant gonorrhea.

Think of the body as an ecosystem, liable to natural selection. Different forms of bacteria on the order of 1014 live all over the human body, and most of them live in the gut. When antibiotics are introduced, maybe to fight off a particularly pesky case of strep throat, the effect on bacteria population can be apocalyptic. While numbers of bacteria bounce back, the populations of certain species will grow back in different proportions.

When antibiotics are unnecessarily prescribed, they may allow problematic specimens, originally kept in check by other bacteria, to grow stronger, causing harmful infections.

C. diff, which kills 14,000 people each year, is a particularly dangerous specimen. In hospitals and nursing homes, where antibiotic use is prevalent, people are more likely to harbor a vulnerable bacteria population. When C. diff spreads in these places, epidemics of this potentially deadly infection occur.

CRE and drug-resistant gonorrhea occur when antibiotics are taken but do not kill all of the infectious bacteria. This leaves only the strongest specimens, which then grow and invade the body. Now antibiotic-resistant, these “super bacteria” are much harder to treat when they inevitably spread. These resistant bacteria are so problematic that half of the diagnosed CRE patients die from infection. Drug-resistant gonorrhea is so common that the CDC estimated that 30 percent of the 800,000 gonorrhea cases each year are resistant.

While these three diseases are the only ones identified as “urgent,” there are many other problematic, antibiotic-resistant bacteria that need to be addressed.

To help prevent the spread of these resistant bacteria, the CDC has designed several necessary steps. Among these are preventive vaccinations, cutting unneeded antibiotics, hospital control plans, better tracking of infections, and developing of more specific antibiotics.

Hopefully, if these steps are taken, they will be able to not only treat, but prevent these deadly infections.

[Source: USA Today]