news_medicine_19062017

Fighting the super bugs

Berlin (dpa) - A new study has shown that many doctors are still carelessly prescribing antibiotics for things like stubborn colds, often under pressure from patients, even though it is well known that antibiotics do not help against viruses.

This practice is gradually diminishing the power of this type of medication and aiding the development of multi-resistant bacteria, putting patients' lives at risk - particularly in hospitals.

What are multi-resistant bacteria, and how do they come into being?

Bacteria constantly multiply in order to survive. Through mutations in their genetic make-up and the absorption of other genes in their environment, they are continually developing their resistance to substances that threaten them.

Multi-resistant bacteria can survive many antibiotics, and there are even cases where there is no longer any antibiotic that works.

How dangerous are these bacteria?

"Around the world, the emergence and spread of resistance against antibiotics has become a serious public health problem," says the German Robert Koch Institute, which specializes in disease control and prevention.

This makes it more difficult to treat diseases caused by bacterial infections. When antibiotics are used too often, for long periods of time or for the wrong reasons, this encourages the development of multi-resistant pathogens.

"The biggest risk is that, by resorting to too many antibiotic treatments, often wrongly, we damage effective treatment options," says Hardy Mueller, head of the action group Patientensicherheit. In such a scenario, a simple inflammation can become a life-threatening infection.

Where can people get infected with these resistant bacteria?

Resistant bacteria often emerge in hospitals. A lack of hygiene, particularly hand hygiene, often plays a role in such infections.

Can we still guarantee the supply of effective antibiotics?

Not always. Like other types of medication, antibiotics often experience supply shortages. At the end of last year, for example, there was a shortage of the antibiotic piperacillin/tazobactam (often known as piptaz) due to an explosion at a Chinese manufacturer's production facilities.

Piptaz is a broad-spectrum antibiotic that is mostly used in hospitals for serious infections like blood poisoning.

What can be done to stop the development of multi-resistant bacteria?

A number of initiatives around the world are aiming to promote awareness among both doctors and patients. In Germany, for example, the DART 2020 programme is aiming to address the overuse of antibiotics.

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