Antibiotics have saved lives since 1942 when the first person was saved using the first antibiotic, penicillin. However, since then, overuse and permeation of life-saving drugs into our environment and water sources has caused drug resistance in once easy-to-cure strains of bacteria and fungi.
As preppers, we prepare for disasters, but most don’t know that we are no longer waiting for a particularly serious disaster. The apocalypse has already arrived.
Superbugs are here and they are a serious threat.
The CDC recently published a troubling report about antibiotic resistance called Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States. Here are two excerpts that get right to the point:
Untreatable or pan-resistant infections are no longer a future threat—they are a reality. Around the world, including in the United States, people are dying from infections for which effective antibiotics are not available. In fact, many experts, including at CDC, believe we are already in a ‘post-antibiotic’ era. (CDC, pg. 34)
Human waste (poop) can carry traces of previously consumed antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant germs. Waste goes to treatment plants and is released as treated wastewater. This can contribute to antibiotic resistance in the environment, including contaminating lakes and streams.” (pg. 26)
We are not preparing for the post-antibiotic era, we are experiencing it right now.
The International Business Times Reports:
“This is not some mystical apocalypse or fear-mongering. It is reality,” Dr. Victoria Fraser from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis told NBC News. “We are faced with trying to take care of patients who have drug-resistant infections that we have no treatment for.” (source)
How did this happen?
What causes drug resistance in fungi and bacterial infections? The CDC released a harrowing diagram in its 2019 report showing the process. It puts the information in almost “cute” picture form on page 18 in the section titled How Antibiotic Resistance Happens: Antibiotic Exposure and the Spread of Germs. This one diagram paints the literal picture of the dissolution of the foundation of modern medicine: antibiotics.
Increases in antibiotic resistance are driven by a combination of germs exposed to antibiotics, and the spread of those germs and their mechanisms of resistance. This naturally occurring process is accelerated when antibiotics are constantly present in the environment or in the germs’ hosts (e.g., patients). (CDC, pg. 18)
What this means is that bacteria and fungi are learning how to survive in this world that is drenched in the poison that was once deadly to them: antibiotics. And the most terrifying thing is that germs are able to share this information with other deadly microorganisms that live in their world of disease. Once they are able to evolve to either resist or expel the drug from their little “bodies,” antibiotic resistance has taken hold.
Fewer people are dying, but the number of deaths is still high.
However, all is not lost. Since 2013, the number of fatalities dues to antibiotic resistance has decreased:
New CDC data show that while the burden of antibiotic-resistance threats in the United States was greater than initially understood, deaths are decreasing since the 2013 report. (source)
But they still acknowledge that 35,000 deaths are still far too many:
Yet the number of people facing antibiotic resistance in the United States is still too high. More than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the United States each year, and more than 35,000 people die as a result. In addition, nearly 223,900 people in the United States required hospital care for C. difficile and at least 12,800 people died in 2017. (source)
However, some news sources disagree with the CDC report and say the number of deaths is on the rise, reports the International Business Times:
The results of the 2019 report are also higher than in the previous AR threat report published in 2013. It was found at the time that around 2 million people suffered from drug-resistant infections, with nearly 23,000 dying from said infections. (source)
We are running out of treatment options.
In addition to burgeoning drug resistance to bacteria and fungal infections the world over that has the CDC on high alert, drug companies have all but halted their pursuit of “new” antibiotics citing financial issues and lack of willingness to invest in the lengthy and not-always-successful process.
The CDC’s report laid out in no uncertain terms that we cannot rely on the invention of new drugs. Their report from 2019 states that “Since 1990, 78% of major drug companies have scaled back or cut antibiotic research due to development challenges.” (pg. 34) This is despite the fact that every day there are more strains that are resistant to common antibiotic treatments of common diseases. Among the common diseases that are becoming more and more difficult to treat at gonorrhea, strep throat, and the common yeast infection. (pg. 103)
Here is a list of the most urgent threats we are facing.
The CDC has ranked three groups of antibiotic risks, labeling different bacteria and fungus strains in their AR Threats Report. Below is a list of the “Urgent” threats as listed by the CDC:
In 2013, CDC published the first AR Threats Report, which sounded the alarm to the danger of antibiotic resistance. The report stated that each year in the U.S. at least 2 million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection, and at least 23,000 people die. The 2013 AR Threats Report helped inform the National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria. The 2013 and 2019 reports do not include viruses (e.g., HIV, influenza) or parasites. (source)
Bacteria and Fungi Listed in the 2019 AR Threats Report:
- Type: Bacteria
- About: Carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter cause pneumonia and wound, bloodstream, and urinary tract infections. Nearly all these infections happen in patients who recently received care in a healthcare facility.
- Estimated cases in hospitalized patients in 2017: 8,500
- Estimated deaths in 2017: 700
Drug-resistant Candida auris (C. auris)
- Type: Fungus
- About: C. auris is an emerging multidrug-resistant yeast. It can cause severe infections and spreads easily between hospitalized patients and nursing home residents.
- Clinical cases in 2018: 323
Clostridioides difficile (C. difficile)
- Type: Bacteria
- Also known as: C. difficile or C. diff, previously Clostridium difficile
- About: C. difficile causes life-threatening diarrhea and colitis (inflammation of the colon), mostly in people who have had both recent medical care and antibiotics.
- Infections per year: 223,900
- Deaths per year: 12,800
Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE)
- Type: Bacteria
- Also known as: Nightmare bacteria
- About: CRE are a major concern for patients in healthcare facilities. Some Enterobacteriaceae (a family of germs) are resistant to nearly all antibiotics, leaving more toxic or less effective treatment options.
- Estimated cases in hospitalized patients in 2017: 13,100
- Estimated deaths in 2017: 1,100
Drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae (N. gonorrhoeae)
- Type: Bacteria
- Also known as: Drug-resistant gonorrhea
- About: N. gonorrhoeae causes the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea that can result in life-threatening ectopic pregnancy and infertility, and can increase the risk of getting and giving HIV.
- Estimated drug-resistant infections per year: 550,000
What can you do to prepare?
The CDC report says that without new technologies, the number one protection will be prevention.
Countless times in the report, they emphasize community protection by vaccination and, most importantly, hand washing.
(Paraphrased) “In the United States, infection prevention activities have proven effective in slowing the spread of resistant germs. This includes:
Strategies to decrease spread within healthcare settings (e.g., implementing hand hygiene)
Implementing biosecurity measures on farms
Responding rapidly to unusual genes and germs when they first appear. (pg. 10)
Preventing infections in the first place: Close contact (direct or indirect) with a person carrying a resistant germ—for example, this can happen when healthcare providers move from one patient to the next without washing their hands (pg. 9)
Here are the preventive measures the CDC recommends.
The report continues with more specific information on prevention. In particular, page 30 provides a diagram showing how to protect yourself and your family. Number 2 on the list is “clean your hands.”
Infections caused by antibiotic-resistant germs are difficult, and sometimes impossible, to treat—but we can help stop the spread of these germs. Antibiotic resistance happens when germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them.
No one can completely avoid getting an infection, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.
Know Your Risks, Ask Questions, & Take Care: Ask your healthcare provider about risks for certain infections and sepsis. Speak up with questions or concerns. Keep cuts clean and covered until healed, and take good care of chronic conditions, like diabetes or heart disease.
Clean Your Hands: Keeping your hands clean is one of the best ways to prevent infections, avoid getting sick, and prevent spreading germs.
Get Vaccinated: Vaccines are an important step to prevent infections, including resistant infections.
Be Aware of Changes in Your Health: Talk to your healthcare provider about how to recognize signs and symptoms of infections, or if you think you have an infection. If an infection isn’t stopped, it can lead to additional complications like sepsis, a life-threatening medical emergency.
Use Antibiotics Appropriately: Talk with your healthcare provider or veterinarian about the best treatment when you, your family, or your animal is sick. Antibiotics save lives, but any time they are used they can cause side effects and lead to antibiotic resistance.
Practice Healthy Habits Around Animals: Always clean your hands after touching, feeding, or caring for animals, and keep your animals healthy.
Prepare Food Safely: Follow four simple steps to avoid foodborne infections. Clean your hands, cooking utensils, and surfaces. Separate raw meat from other foods. Cook foods to safe temperatures. Chill leftovers and other foods promptly.
Stay Healthy When Traveling Abroad: Be vigilant when traveling abroad. Know what vaccinations are needed, check health alerts, stick to safe food and drinks, plan in advance in case you get sick, and learn about the risks of medical tourism.
Prevent STDs: Gonorrhea, a common STD, can be resistant to the drugs designed to treat it. The only way to avoid STDs is to not have sex. If you have sex, lower your risk by choosing safer sexual activities and using condoms the right way from start to finish. You and your partner should be treated right away if you test positive to keep from getting infected again. (p. 27)
Handwashing is one of the most important things you can do.
The CDC has a separate and detailed website page on hand-washing showing the statistics of disease prevention:
Teaching people about handwashing helps them and their communities stay healthy. Handwashing education in the community:
Reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 23-40%
Reduces diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58%
Reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16-21%
Reduces absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in schoolchildren by 29-57% (source)
Handwashing helps battle the rise in antibiotic resistance, the CDC says:
Preventing sickness reduces the amount of antibiotics people use and the likelihood that antibiotic resistance will develop. Handwashing can prevent about 30% of diarrhea-related sicknesses and about 20% of respiratory infections (e.g., colds). Antibiotics often are prescribed unnecessarily for these health issues 14. Reducing the number of these infections by washing hands frequently helps prevent the overuse of antibiotics—the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world. Handwashing can also prevent people from getting sick with germs that are already resistant to antibiotics and that can be difficult to treat.
Estimated global rates of handwashing after using the toilet are only 19%. (source)
The horrifying statistic here is that only 19% of people across the globe are washing their hands after using the bathroom. It’s not a wonder that antibiotic-resistant disease is reaching the crisis point.
The urgency found in the “Forward” of the report written by Robert R. Redfield, M.D. Director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is very telling of the dire situation in which we find ourselves globally.
To stop antibiotic resistance, our nation must:
Stop referring to a coming post-antibiotic era—it’s already here. You and I are living in a time when some miracle drugs no longer perform miracles and families are being ripped apart by a microscopic enemy. The time for action is now and we can be part of the solution.
Stop playing the blame game. Each person, industry, and country can affect the development of antibiotic resistance. We each have a role to play and should be held accountable to make meaningful progress against this threat.
Stop relying only on new antibiotics that are slow getting to market and that, sadly, these germs will one day render ineffective. We need to adopt aggressive strategies that keep the germs away and infections from occurring in the first place.
Stop believing that antibiotic resistance is a problem “over there” in someone else’s hospital, state, or country—and not in our own backyard. Antibiotic resistance has been found in every U.S. state and in every country across the globe. There is no safe place from antibiotic resistance, but everyone can take action against it. Take action where you can, from handwashing to improving antibiotic use.
The problem will get worse if we do not act now, but we can make a difference.
Simply, here’s what works. Preventing infections protects everyone. Improving antibiotic use in people and animals slows the threat and helps preserve today’s drugs and those yet to come. Detecting threats and implementing interventions to keep germs from becoming widespread saves lives.
These actions are protecting us today and will continue to protect us, our families, and our nation from a threat that will never stop. I’m proud to serve alongside the experts who refuse to let this threat disarm us and who are diligently protecting our future by putting science and public health into action.
We all have a role to play. We hope the 2019 AR Threats Report inspires you to act now. (source)
He’s right. We all have our role to play. And at minimum as preppers, we should secure our supplies of clean water and soap and use them unfailingly. We are the first line of defense. Act like it.
Wash your hands.
What do you think?
Are you concerned about the rise in antibiotic-resistant infections? Are there things your family is doing to protect yourselves? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
About Jenny Jayne
Jenny Jayne is the mother of two wonderful boys on the Autism spectrum and is passionate about Autism Advocacy. She is a novelist who writes Post-apocalyptic fiction and a freelance writer. Her first novel is coming soon to Kindle eBooks near you. Her guilty pleasures are preparing for hurricanes, drinking hot coffee, eating milk chocolate, reading romances, and watching The Office for the 50th time. Her website: https://jennyjayneauthor.wordpress.com/