While the term “nightmare superbug” may seem melodramatic, it is how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) described the danger of antibiotic-resistant bacteria spreading throughout the country. Right now, most resistant pathogens are not exceedingly dangerous in and of themselves, but they have the ability to spread resistance to other bacteria and viruses that can be far more deadly.
Across the U.S., in 27 different states, resistant bacteria have been found through CDC testing. When healthcare professionals fail to follow proper procedures, they help these pathogens spread and put the lives of their patients at risk.
Understanding Microbes and Pathogens
To fully grasp the risk of this “nightmare superbug,” it is important to first understand how microbes and antibacterial medicines work. Microbes are organisms that are too small to be seen by the eye without a microscope. Most of these organisms are harmless to people, and many of them are even beneficial and exist naturally within a person.
Some microbes, however, are dangerous and can cause diseases. These are called pathogens.
Development of Antibiotic Resistance
Pathogens such as Streptococcus, the bacteria that causes strep throat, can often be treated by antibiotics. When used properly, antibiotics kill or inhibit the pathogens and help a person recover more quickly from an illness.
Unfortunately, the overuse of antibiotics has caused bacteria to evolve and develop more resistance to the drugs used to treat them. While antibiotics kill off some bacteria, those that are resistant remain, continue to reproduce and spread, and become more common.
How Antibiotic Resistance Spreads
Many antibiotic-resistant microbes are fairly harmless, or are only minor pathogens. However, microbes are able to transmit their resistance to other microbes. A person might be seemingly healthy while carrying resistant bacteria; that person can then spread those bacteria to another person who is sick, and then the pathogens in that second person can gain resistance to antibiotics from otherwise harmless resistant bacteria.
The idea of a “nightmare superbug” comes down to the potential for antibiotic-resistant bacteria to spread that resistance to dangerous and contagious pathogens. Should that happen, limited treatments would work against that bacteria, and the impact on the general population could be disastrous. For people already at risk, such as young children, the elderly, and those with chronic illnesses, a superbug would be even more deadly.
The Responsibility of Healthcare Professionals
There are two effective ways to fight against the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, both of which rely on healthcare professionals: containment and antibiotic stewardship. Doctors and nurses can fight the spread of antibiotic resistance by testing for such bacteria and isolating patients when they find it. This keeps the bacteria from spreading to other patients in a hospital or nursing home. Medical professionals and hospitals must always practice the highest standards of hygiene and disinfection.
Antibiotic stewardship refers to the responsible use of antibiotics when treating patients. Excessive use of antibiotics, primarily in overprescribing drugs in high amounts or in cases when it is not really necessary, has been a major factor in the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Doctors must take greater care to ensure that the use of antibiotics in a given case is really appropriate, rather than prescribing them when not necessary.
Failure to follow either of these methods for eliminating dangerous pathogens is ultimately a failure by medical professionals to meet the standard of care expected of them.
While the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is not always a case of medical malpractice, it can be in some situations. If a doctor or nurse fails to wash his or her hands, or the hospital does not properly sterilize its instruments, that is an act of negligence. It is also sadly common in American healthcare, with infections killing thousands of patients each year.
Failures like this can and will spread bacteria from one patient to another, from the outside world into a hospital, or from a doctor to a patient.
Medical malpractice means that a medical professional or hospital failed to meet the standard of care. A failure to use recognized precautions by properly sterilizing instruments is an avoidable mistake for which a hospital (or others) can be liable for damages. If you have questions about filing a medical malpractice claim, speak to the Atlanta medical malpractice attorneys at Grant Law Office in a free consultation at (404) 995-3955 or toll-free (866) 249-5513.