science 14 Things You Need to Know About Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria - AKA 'Superbugs'  

Laura Allan
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If you haven't heard of superbugs before, you'd better listen up - things are about to get crazy. Superbugs are drug-resistant microbes that no longer respond to treatment. Superbugs may sound like a rare or even confusing phenomenon, but frighteningly enough, they're a growing worldwide problem. In fact, scientists and doctors alike aren't quite sure how to stop superbugs in their tracks. 

What are superbugs? To break it down, infection-causing bacteria are growing at a much quicker pace than our bodies can keep up with. Whereas certain illnesses were once easily curable, many bacteria have now evolved to resist common treatments. When this happens, an infection can't easily be cured. In some cases, this can make infections extremely damaging to the body - or even deadly. So you can understand why it might be important to know some superbug facts.

This might seem frightening, but there is hope. Read on and learn just about everything you'll need to know in your preparation for the war against superbugs and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Nearly 500,000 People Developed a TB Superbug in 2014


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Photo: Works Progress Administration/Wikimedia Commons

In many parts of the world, tuberculosis is a serious problem. It's highly contagious and can be difficult to treat - some cases even end in death. Most shocking of all is the fact that TB has one of the most serious superbugs in the world. There are multiple strains of TB that are resistant to major drugs, and some strains are resistant to just about every drug out there. In 2014, an estimated 480,000 people around the world developed multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB). Even worse: only one-quarter of the MDR-TB cases that year were detected and reported, and of those, only half were successfully treated. If you think you're getting sick, it's definitely best to make a doctor's appointment ASAP. 

Antibiotics Can Actually Make Superbugs Worse


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Photo: Chemical Heritage Foundation/Wikimedia Commons

Many people fail to realize that antibiotics should only be used for treating infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control, "up to 50% of the time, antibiotics are not optimally prescribed." When you take unnecessary antibiotics, that can actually create superbugs. Bacteria spreads and gains resistance to antibiotics when humans and animals are needlessly given this type of drug. 

The UN Takes Superbugs Very Seriously


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Photo: National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons

Though the world isn't in crisis mode yet, international authorities are preparing for the spread of superbugs. These drug-resistant bacteria are even causing the United Nations to take notice. In September 2016, the UN voted "yes" on "a broad, coordinated approach" that will tackle antimicrobial resistance. This might not sound like a very big deal (bacteria are microscopic, after all), but it is. In its entire history before the superbug vote, the UN had only agreed to take on three other health issues: HIV, noncommunicable diseases, and Ebola. The fact that superbugs are being placed on the same level as these well-known killers says a lot about the scale of the problem the entire world is now facing. 

Superbugs Are a Horrifying Example of Evolution


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Photo: Wellcome Images/Wikimedia Commons

You can debate how or why evolution happens, but bacteria do evolve. This evolution has worked out pretty well for humans up until now - it's why we're able to beat fevers and colds with ease. Yet, this bacterial evolution is also what created superbugs in the first place. Superbugs happen when weak bacteria are wiped out by antibiotics, but stronger, mutated bacteria remain and reproduce. It's a "survival of the fittest," type of process, in which only the biggest and best go on to populate the next generation. Superbugs are not a natural occurrence, but a result of evolution caused by man-made antibiotics. This causes bacterial evolution to occur at a much quicker pace than the human immune system can keep up with.