With the Zika virus spreading across South America and entering parts of the U.S. there has been a lot of talk about new dangerous diseases, some of which are resistant to traditional forms of treatment. These are sometimes referred to as “superbugs” because of how invulnerable they are to modern medicine. Thus far, there hasn’t been much cause for alarm because documented cases of such ailments are still quite rare. Nevertheless, travelers should always be wary about protecting their health when traveling domestically and abroad.
What is a superbug?
Many common illnesses are caused by bacteria – living organisms that can interact with your immune system in potentially devastating ways. Not all bacteria are harmful, however. In fact, many are even necessary for your basic survival. The amount of bacteria is a human body varies from one individual to another, though conservative estimates put the ratio at three bacteria cells for every one human cell in your body, reported Sciencenews. Again, the majority of those are benign or even helpful. Superbugs, on the other hand, are harmful organisms that have evolved to be resistant to most antibiotic medicines.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there’s no way to stop bacteria from becoming resistant to medication. Because of their extremely high rate of reproduction, these miniscule organisms can adapt and evolve quickly. The rate at which they adapt can be slowed, however, through proper sanitation and use of prescription antibiotics. Behaviors that help superbugs include not using antibiotics as prescribed, not washing hands, leaving food preparation areas unclean and living in an unsanitary environment.
— ScriptPro (@ScriptPro) July 5, 2016
Types of superbugs
There are three main types of superbugs that researchers are watching closely. They are certain strains of E. Coli, staph bacteria and enterobacteriaceae.
- Resistant E. Coli: There are a number of strains of E. Coli, only a few of which are dangerous to humans. Those are typically found in undercooked meat that came into contact with animal waste or some other unsanitary surface. The Washington Post reported that a 49 year old woman in Pennsylvania was found carrying a strain of antibiotic resistant E. Coli, and though it is still treatable by other forms of medication, the resistant gene is still capable of being passed to other forms of harmful bacteria.
- Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus: Otherwise known as MRSA, this form of bacteria can spread in health care settings as well as in the community. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that, though this organism is resistant to many kinds of antibiotics, it can be prevented with proper cleaning habits. The government agency has listed MRSA as a serious threat to national health.
- Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae: CRE is similar to MRSA in that it typically does not affect healthy individuals, but can harm those who have weakened immune systems. The CDC warned that CRE causes 50 percent of fatal infections in those infected with the bacteria.
How to protect yourself from superbugs while traveling
When traveling, you have a greater likelihood of becoming stressed and having a weakened immune system. The combination of contact with strangers, loss of sleep and general anxiety about travel can contribute to increased instances of getting sick. Usually, illnesses contracted while traveling are easy to treat and typically dissipate with rest and proper nutrition. You can prevent getting infected with a strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria by washing your hands regularly, getting the proper vaccinations, and avoiding travel when sick.
The threat of superbugs is still minimal, and it shouldn’t cause you to cancel your travel plans. Knowing how to take care of yourself while traveling is the first step to staying healthy. Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet, keeping your hands clean and getting plenty of rest.