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What is a Super Bug?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A super bug, also spelled superbug, is a common name for antibiotic- resistant strains of bacteria. The definition is more refined and means that the bacterial strain in question is resistant to more than one type of antibiotic. This make these “bugs,” which are often most present in hospitals where they can prey on those more vulnerable to infection, difficult to fight. The development of new super bug types or mutation of the ones already known is of great unease to disease specialists. Concern exists that some strains could develop so much resistance to antibiotics that they would become virtually untreatable.

Bacteria are living organisms, and have the ability to mutate and change in order to survive. Since they are subject to this evolutionary process, like all other living things, when antibiotics assault them, they can develop ways to fight them over time. Bacteria that survive an antibiotic treatment produce new bacteria that may possess genetic structure to survive additional antibiotic treatments. Thus a new strain of the bacteria can be born and passed to other living organisms.

Many different types of bacteria aren’t easily destroyed by one specific antibiotic. This is usually not problematic because there are many other antibiotic treatments that can be employed to kill a bacterial strain. Most of the super bug types are resistant to several antibiotics and could develop additional resistances in the future. This poses tremendous problems in human and animal health, and some disease specialists describe present antibiotic research and drug development as a race between creating new drugs that will treat evolving super bugs.

It’s known that many of the super bugs in existence have been principally caused by overuse of antibiotics. Prescribing antibiotics to treat viruses instead of really determining that a person has an infection, gives common bacteria an opportunity to mutate and become stronger. This has lead to significant change in the medical community on this issue, and most doctors are now hesitant to use antibiotics unless there is clear evidence of infection. Many diseases specialists also advocate for reducing antibiotic use in the raising of meat, as this could develop new super bug strains.

Unfortunately, there are already some super bug forms in existence that pose problems. One of the best known of these is methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which has until recently, been mostly noted in hospital and other medical settings. MRSA can cause serious external and internal infections that need specific antibiotic treatment. Other strains of MRSA are now present in many communities.

When treating a super bug, physicians have to be able to identify it and know the type of antibiotics to which it is resistant. This typically means culturing areas of infection to identify the bacterial strain. Culturing takes time, may delay effective treatment, and there is always the possibility that additional mutation of the strain has occurred, rendering present recommended treatments ineffective.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By Feryll — On May 07, 2014

I agree that these super bug diseases are scary, but at this point the chances of contracting a disease caused by them is still relatively low. Also, the numbers of cases of conditions such as MRSA, which is caused by one of the so-called super bugs, has seen a decline in recent years.

I'm not saying you shouldn't be concerned, but knowing the facts about super bug infections helps put it all into perspective.

By Sporkasia — On May 07, 2014

I recently read an article about drug-resistant diseases and super bugs. For all of you who don't think super bugs present a real problem consider these numbers.

More than two million people are infected by drug-resistant germs annually. Of these two million, somewhere between 20 and 25 thousand of them die. In addition to the deaths, many other people exposed to the bugs go through life altering situations as they battle the diseases caused by the infections.

By Animandel — On May 06, 2014

Working in a hospital, I am always conscious of the potential for the spread of disease. People in hospitals are often there because they are sick, so this alone makes a hospital a place where you have a greater chance of contracting some type of bug.

However, it bothers me when people say that hospitals and hospital employees are to blame for the spread of infections caused by super bugs inside the hospital.

In general, staff members at hospitals work diligently to make sure that the premises are clean and sanitized. Of course, not everyone is as thorough as everyone else, but there are measures taken and protocols in place to keep hospitals as safe as possible.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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