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Defending yourself against super bugs

by Sue Lanza

A new health concern, nicknamed "Super Bugs" may await you at your next appointment at your physician's office, clinic or hospital. Seniors need to learn about precautions to take with this latest type of resistant bacteria that is more common than you might think.

When visiting a doctor's office or hospital, most people only think about feeling better. But the advent of a new class of drug-resistant bacteria has changed that around. Without proper knowledge, a trip to the outpatient clinic could have a detrimental affect on your health. That's right. You may pick up another infection while you are getting the first one treated.

Since when did a routine stop at a health care provider turn into a danger zone?

Understanding Super Bugs

It all began with the increased use of antibiotics by health care providers to treat infections. Antibiotic use is warranted in the case of a bacterial infection but there is a concern that, over time, some antibiotics were overused for viral or other infections where they are not effective. Despite the necessary use of antibiotics, the pattern of the spread of bacteria from one person to the next creates different and sometimes more dangerous strains of the same bacteria.

Some of these newest types of bacteria are called "Super Bugs" because they have developed such strength that it is very difficult or impossible to kill off with routine antibiotics. To make matter worse, Super Bugs are being more frequently seen in the last place you might imagine them: the "clean and sterile" office of your neighborhood physician or clinic.

The Two Giants of the Super Bugs

Although there are new Super Bugs popping up from time to time, the two that you hear of most frequently are: MRSA, short for "methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus" or C. Diff, which stands for "Clostridium difficile."

MRSA, is a potentially fatal bacteria that is known for its resistant to all the standard antibiotics, which makes it incredibly hard to treat. Some symptoms may include inflamed skin, redness and painful bumps. C. Diff, another very dangerous bacterium, is transmitted through contact with feces. You may be thinking that this wouldn't impact you but in reality, you could be vulnerable if a surface you touch has been contaminated with infected feces. Common symptoms of C. Diff are watery bowel movements and fever.

Risk factors for developing both of these Super Bugs include being 65 years or older, recently being hospitalized or treated in a long-term care setting, and having received a recent treatment of antibiotics for something else.

Tips to Stay Healthy

These are difficult topics to consider but it is important to note that there are millions of people in the U.S. that have contracted these two infections and about 100,000 people die annually as a result of one or more of these infections. Since seniors may have more vulnerability to infections in general, how do you protect yourself?

The three simplest ways to prevent exposure and infection are to wash your hands frequently, be a watchdog when you or a loved one are having a procedure or even making an office visit, and to know the signs of infection so you can quickly dodge the Super Bug bullet if it does come your way.