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Washing your hands, staying on top of vaccinations and using antibiotics only as prescribed are some ways you can protect yourself against the growing threat of superbugs, which kill at least 35,000 people and cause more than 2.8 million infections each year in the U.S., a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows.
Superbugs, or germs that are able to defeat the drugs designed to kill them, can't be stopped with the development of new antibiotics that “these germs will one day render ineffective,” the report says. Instead, the focus needs to be on “aggressive strategies that keep the germs away” and preventing “infections from occurring in the first place.”
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Rather than asking your doctor for antibiotics, which treat diseases caused by bacteria, sick patients should ask their physicians, “What can make me feel better?” says Michael Craig, with the CDC Antibiotic Resistance Coordination and Strategy Unit. And always wash your hands after touching, feeding or caring for animals, since they can also carry superbugs.
Following safe-food practices, such as cleaning surfaces, separating raw meat from other foods and chilling leftovers properly, is another way to reduce your risk of a drug-resistant infection, the CDC says. And be sure to talk to your doctor if you suspect you have an infection. Common signs include fever, chills, diarrhea and vomiting.
People with weakened immune systems or those who are receiving health care are at increased risk for a superbug infection, although anyone can catch a drug-resistant germ. And any antibiotic use can lead to resistance.
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The new CDC report lists five superbugs as “urgent threats,” including a relatively new drug-resistant fungus, Candida auris (C. auris), which spreads easily in hospitals and nursing homes. The number of reported cases increased 318 percent in 2018, compared with previous years.
The common health care-associated Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) is also listed as an urgent threat. C. diff was responsible for an estimated 12,800 deaths in 2017.
"With emerging threats like this, the modern medicine available to us today may very well be gone tomorrow if we don't slow the development of antibiotic resistance,” CDC Director Robert Redfield told reporters in a telebriefing on Wednesday.
In addition to the five urgent superbug threats, the report lists 11 “serious threats” and two “concerning threats.” Three germs are on the CDC's watch list.
Deaths from superbugs have declined since the CDC's revised 2013 report, but the number of people facing antibiotic resistance is still too high, Craig says.
Redfield praised recent prevention efforts for the overall decline in antibiotic-resistant infections, which also dropped by nearly 30 percent in hospitals since 2013. Still, he said, “The global community needs more innovation, new treatment options, reliable diagnostics and better data that will help protect people and animals.”
Editor's note: This article was originally published on November 14, 2019. It has been updated with the AARP Top Tips video.