By | July 19, 2016

The overall health of the U.S. is being threatened by a new superbug. In Pennsylvania, a woman was diagnosed with a rare form of E. coli infection, reports CNN Health, and this is the first time this superbug has been found in the U.S. Fortunately, the woman survived, but it represents the need to reopen the conversation about the real threat of superbugs and what happens when medicine is too late to save lives.


What Are Superbugs?

A superbug is a term given to bacteria that become resistant to the most aggressive antibiotics, leaving health providers limited in treatment options. In this case, the superbug is resistant to the last-resort antibiotic, Colistin.

Superbugs develop from a combination of factors, which include the following:

  • Mutations in the pathogen make it immune (resistant) to antibiotics.
  • Repeated exposure to antibiotics, but the exposure is not enough to completely kill off the pathogen.

Although these two factors seem irrelevant, they actually are the mechanism by which superbugs gain an immortality against modern medicine. As a result, those who contract superbugs could easily become incurable, driving up mortality rates and duration of hospital stays.

The use of antibiotics in the food chain, such as treating livestock with antibiotics to prevent illness and encourage growth, also contributes to the development of antibiotic resistance, explains the World Health Organization. In fact, antibiotic resistance is considered one of the gravest threats to the health of all populations around the world.


Why Are Superbugs Becoming a Threat to the Community You Serve?

Superbugs are an issue of following through with a prescribed plan of care and seeking care in the first place. When a client fails to seek treatment, the illness can progress unchecked. Those with chronic health problems, such as behavioral health conditions, are at an increased risk for avoiding medical treatment of infections and vice versa. Unfortunately, the community you serve is in danger from poor health choices, such as eating unwashed produce or undercooked meats.

Meanwhile, millennials are changing how the modern world gets health care. According to Elizabeth Whitman of the International Business Times, millennials, which is the group of the population between the ages of 18 and 34, routinely avoid seeing a clinician.

When health care is needed, millennials often turn to the Internet before actually seeing a caregiver. Therefore, those who do not see a caregiver regularly are at a greater risk for developing long-term health problems, including superinfections.

For example, a whole category of health apps has been developed to eliminate the physical trip to see a caregiver. The nonexistence of lab results in app-based health care leaves caregivers with a pro-antibiotic view of all potential infections, which further exposes pathogens to antibiotics when they may not be necessary.


How Do Your Clients Contract Superbugs?

Thoroughly washing the hands remains the most effective means of preventing the spread of all pathogens, including superbugs, explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By definition, superbugs may not be destroyed through the use of antimicrobial hand soaps exclusively. This is why you need to make sure your clients understand the importance of scrubbing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.


What Can You Do to Lessen the Chances of Contracting or Developing a Superbug?

The number of uninsured people in the U.S. continues to drop, reports the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). However, this increase is not an excuse to stop emphasizing the importance of understanding superbugs. As a caregiver to the community you serve, you must part of the solution.

Teach your clients about the following ways to prevent the development of superbugs:

  1. Practice hand hygiene. Soap and clean water is always best, but soap and available water should be the next option. Advise clients to only use hand sanitizers when soap and water are unavailable, and for a sanitizer to be effective, it must contain 60-percent alcohol.
  2. Get vaccinated. Vaccines help to prevent the resurgence of infections from the past, such as tuberculosis, measles, mumps and rubella.
  3. Do not put personal responsibilities ahead of health. This is especially important for millennials. When sick, clients need to avoid contact with others and get treatment from a professional.
  4. Take all antibiotics as recommended.
  5. Do not take antibiotics without a prescription from your health provider.
  6. Never use left-over antibiotics.

You can also fight the threat of superbugs by taking a few actions in your care setting, which include the following:

  1. Keep your hands, surfaces and instruments clean and disinfected.
  2. Take bacterial cultures when any bacterial infection is suspected.
  3. Only dispense or prescribe antibiotics when needed and if the infection has a known susceptibility to the antibiotic.

Social workers and mental health professionals can help prevent superinfections by keeping clients accountable. This may include proactively managing appointments, following up with ill clients and finding funding sources for uninsured or low-income clients.


Final Thoughts

Superbugs are real and deadly, and you need to know how to protect the community you serve. Always make sure your plan of care includes a comprehensive evaluation and re-assessment after treatment. You need to know if a client has the financial resources to pay for treatment, when vaccinations were last given, what current problems a client has and what mental issues may occur in the future. By focusing treatment on the whole health of each client, you can fight superbugs on an achievable scale.

Medicine is not too late to fight superbugs, but it will be unless all health and human services professionals help to make the topic a priority in each client-caregiver interaction.

Jason Vanover

Working in health care since 2005, Jason's body of experience encompasses dozens of care settings, including Senior care, psychiatric facilities, nonprofit health service centers, group homes for those with developmental disabilities and beyond. Jason understands the need to tailor his skills to each setting to encourage the best treatment outcomes and promote an inclusive, healing environment.

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