Excessive intake of antibiotics and improper disposal of leftovers have led to an exponential growth of multidrug-resistant bacteria.
The alert has already been issued by the Directorate General for Health (DGS): the multiresistant bacteria are a real and growing threat to our health. It is estimated that, in Portugal alone, infections by superbugs are the cause of 1160 deaths every year – more recent figures, referring to the year 2018, released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD??
At the root of the problem is the inappropriate use of antibiotics and the disposal of leftovers of these drugs.
Understand what resistant bacteria are, why this happens, the effects of their presence in the environment and what we have to do to stop the problem.
Superbugs: the danger of multidrug resistant bacteria
Resistant bacterial infections may be the main cause of death in 2050. The alert was launched by the directors of the Program for the Prevention and Control of Infections and Resistance to Antimicrobials (PPCIRA), through Artur Paiva, director of the Intensive Care Unit at the Hospital de São João, under the authority of the General Directorate of Health (DGS)??
Public health agencies have been in constant motion to raise awareness of the dangers associated with excessive and incorrect intake of antibiotics, which may be a scarce commodity in the future.
The study carried out by the OECD pointed to 1160 deaths per year in Portugal caused by multidrug resistant bacteria. The same analysis estimated that, across Europe, one in five hospital infections is caused by superbugs.
What are superbugs and why do they become multidrug resistant?
Multiresistant bacteria, or superbugs, are common bacteria that gain resistance to the most diverse types of antibiotics, through mechanisms of adaptation and mutation.
This happens because bacteria have a natural tendency to resist and transform themselves in order to continue to exist in the environment. The more times they are exposed to the antibiotics we take or discard, the more they will evolve through mutations.
It is for this reason that, according to the DGS, it is urgent to educate the population on the correct use of antibiotics – as well as on the proper way to dispose of leftovers of this type of medicine.
The main reason bacteria gain resistance and become superbugs is their exposure to antibiotics. Every time we use this type of medicine, or discard it in the environment, bacteria come into contact with its components and establish adaptation mechanisms that give rise to mutations.
Multiresistant bacteria in hospitals
Superbugs are a real threat in the hospital environment, especially in Intensive Care Units (ICU) and operating rooms.
This exaggerated presence is fundamentally due to the common procedures that are carried out in hospitals and the indiscriminate use of antibiotics. The risk of a bacterial infection is added in this context, since the immune system of hospitalized patients is weakened.
Official figures indicate that, in 2011, Portugal had the highest hospital infection rates in Europe. In 2019, with updated numbers, only Greece had a worse rate.
How to stop multidrug resistant bacteria
Individual and collective educational and behavior change strategies, as well as the creation of new norms that support the proper prescription of antibiotics are some of our main weapons against the advance of superbugs – and science is counting on it.
Adjusted medical prescription, correct intake and proper disposal is the “rule of three simple” that we have to follow.
How to take antibiotic correctly
It is known that, today, we have an excessive intake of these medicines and the result of this process is that there are, more and more, bacterial infections that are difficult to treat because they do not respond to the existing antibiotics.
Only use antibiotics prescribed by the doctor, respect the duration of treatment and the guidance on doses.
Often, with the decrease or absence of symptoms, we stop taking the antibiotic. This is one of the biggest mistakes we can make: interrupting the antibiotic cycle allows the bacteria in question to develop resistance mechanisms – which leads us to a superbug.
How to dispose of leftover antibiotics
Never dispose of leftover antibiotics or any medication in the trash, do not throw them away in the toilet or kitchen sink. You shouldn’t keep medication at home either. These are habits that pollute the environment and unduly expose bacteria to drugs that can fight them.
When you do that, you are putting everyone at risk and jeopardizing important advances in science in the development of antibiotics.
Once the infection has cured and the indicated period for treatment has ended, any leftover antibiotics should be delivered to a pharmacy.