Superbugs: Antibiotic Resistance


SAN ANTONIO, Texas. (Ivanhoe Newswire)— The COVID-19 virus has infected four million people in the U.S. and killed more than 150,000. But even as corona weakens patients’ immune systems, secondary illnesses like pneumonia are forcing doctors to increase the use of antibiotics for these bacterial infections. Commonly called, ‘superbugs’, these antibiotic-resistant germs, aided by overuse and certain ingredients in hand sanitizers, have become a huge area of concern in the medical community.

“Most of those really strong antibiotic-resistant bugs are opportunistic and what that means is they’re looking for some kind of opportunity to cause disease when the host is in some kind of weakened state,” Karl Klose, PhD, professor of microbiology at University of Texas San Antonio explained to Ivanhoe.

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The host being the thousands of hospital patients fighting coronavirus. Now, it’s combining with antibiotic-resistant bacteria to make people even sicker.

“You pick up these bugs because you’re in the hospital. You end up getting a secondary infection because you’re in a weakened state and can’t fight off disease anymore and then there is no antibiotic that can treat you,” Klose elaborated.

That powerful one-two punch of virus and bacteria sometimes cannot be stopped because many antibiotics simply don’t work anymore, rendering them useless in knocking out secondary infections. After years of doctors overprescribing antibiotics, and studies warning against overusing hand sanitizers, the drugs no longer work as well against superbugs, or secondary infections in corona patients. Meanwhile, doctors are working on this super-tolerance to superbugs. Rice University, for example, is researching something called nano drills that pierce the outside shell of bacteria and deliver drugs right to the source

“They’re very selective and they die by exploding. You punch holes in them and then the cells just bleb … boom,” illustrated Jim Tour, PhD, synthetic organic chemist at Rice University

And there are other methods to kill bacteria, such as ultraviolet, or UV light. Scientists have some cautionary advice.

“Use them in a better way, so that we don’t induce antibiotic resistance to all bacteria that we come into contact with,” Klose concluded.

So, what can you do?  Do not take antibiotics unless absolutely necessary, so that when you do really need them, they are effective. And check your hand sanitizer, an ingredient called triclosan, which can increase superbugs, should not be included. It’s banned in the U.S. but has recently turned up in sanitizers and hand soap sold online.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer; Donna Parker, Field Producer; Bruce Maniscalco, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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REPORT:       MB #4780

BACKGROUND: When germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to beat the drugs designed to kill them, that is known as antibiotic resistance. There are some infections caused by antibiotic-resistant germs; however, they are difficult and sometimes impossible to treat. In most cases, antibiotic-resistant infections require long hospital stays, additional follow-up doctor visits, and costly alternatives. Antibiotic resistance does not mean the body is becoming resistant to antibiotics, it is that bacteria have become resistant to the antibiotics designed to kill them. Antibiotic resistance can affect anyone at any stage of life. At least 2.8 million people in the U.S each year are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria or fungi, and more than 35,000 people die from it.


SUPERBUGS AND SECONDARY INFECTIONS: The hidden threat from antibiotic resistance, or bacteria that are not killed by standard antibiotics, is an even larger threat that is lurking behind the current COVID outbreak. The superbugs that cause these infections thrive in hospitals and medical facilities, and are putting all patients, whether they have a minor illness or major surgery, at risk. Studies have found that 1 in 7 patients hospitalized with COVID have acquired a dangerous secondary bacterial infection, and 50% of patients who have died had such infections. The patients at greatest risk from superbugs are the ones who are already more vulnerable to illness from viral lung infections like influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and COVID. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 2009 influenza pandemic, for example, claimed nearly 300,000 lives around the world. And, between 29% and 55% of those deaths were actually caused by secondary bacterial pneumonia.


NEW NANO STRATEGY: Researchers at Rice University’s Brown School of Engineering have developed a strategy for “trapping and zapping” antibiotic resistant genes. The team used molecular-imprinted graphitic carbon nitride nanosheets to absorb and degrade these genetic remnants in sewage system wastewater before they have the chance to invade and infect other bacteria. “This study addresses a growing concern, the emergence of multidrug resistant bacteria known as superbugs,” said Pedro Alvarez, director of the Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology-Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT) Center. “They are projected to cause 10 million annual deaths by 2050.” Their strategy is to use molecularly imprinted coatings that enhance selectivity and minimize interference by background organic compounds. Molecular imprinting is like making a lock that attracts a key. For this project, graphitic carbon nitride molecules are the lock, or photocatalyst, customized to absorb and then destroy NDM1, which is known to resist multiple drugs.






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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Karl Klose, Professor of Microbiology

Read the entire Q&A