Superbugs - When Antibiotics are Worse Than Diseases Like MRSA

Susanna Sisson's picture

Everyone has heard the term “superbug” which refers to bacteria, viruses such as HIV and Ebola, parasites, fungi and an ever-increasing list which threaten global health. Superbugs are those that are resistant to treatment. There are many drug resistant bacteria - Vancomycin Resistant Enterococcus (VRE), Multi-drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB), Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) and Acinetobacter baumannii (CRA), resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae and Strep A, as well as multi-drug resistant Escherichia coli - all of which can be deadly. Even gonorrhea has become multidrug- and cephalosporin-resistant, but, perhaps the most common and well known is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).


Staphylococcus aureus is so prevalent that about one third of the population is carriers and about 2% of the population is colonized with the resistant form. These bacteria usually colonize inside the nose and on the perineum. Pets, such as dogs and cats, can also get MRSA. Pets can have active infections or they can be carriers. If you keep getting MRSA infections, or if you see any signs of a skin infection on your pet, talk with your vet about testing your pet. Pets with MRSA can be treated and you do not need to get rid of your pet. [1][2]

There are high proportions of antibiotic resistance in bacteria that cause common infections such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and infections in the bloodstream in all regions of the world. A high percentage of hospital-acquired infections are caused by highly resistant bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or multidrug-resistant Gram-negative bacteria.

MRSA infections are prevalent in nursing homes, daycare and school kids, military personnel living in barracks, college dorms, athletics, in some workplaces, and inpatients at hospitals, typically places that involve crowding, skin to skin contact or sharing equipment. According to CDC data from 2011, MRSA causes over 80,000 invasive infections and 11,000 related deaths per year.

Medical professionals also know that when beginning treatment there is a risk of the patient getting worse before they begin to show improvement due to the release of endotoxins by bacteria, which can cause septicemia (blood poisoning), organ failure and death. I used to refer to the condition of already critically ill patients who about to receive antibiotic therapy as “the calm before the storm”.

New evidence now reveals there is another aspect of antibiotic treatment and bacterial reaction that is causing concern.


One of the drugs used in first line defense in infections is a class of antibiotics known as beta-lactams.

Beta-lactam antibiotics are a broad class of antibiotics that consist of all antibiotic agents that contain a β-lactam ring in their molecular structures. This includes penicillin derivatives, cephalosporins, monobactams, and carbapenems.

These antibiotics kill normal staph bacteria by inactivating the enzymes produced in the bacteria which make the cell wall. However when MRSA is exposed to beta-lactams, rather than destroying the cell wall it causes an enzyme called PBP2A to be rendered inactive and alters the cell wall allowing the MRSA not only to proliferate but inducing a powerful inflammatory reaction. According to David Underhill, PhD, associate director of the Division of Immunology Research in the Cedars-Sinai Department of Biomedical Sciences and the Janet and William Wetsman Family Chair in Inflammatory Bowel Disease, "In mice infected with MRSA, induction of PBP2A with methicillin led to more inflammation and pathology."

What can you do to prevent staph or MRSA skin infections?

Practice good hygiene:
• Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• When using a Kleenex or handkerchief dispose of or wash properly.
• Avoid sharing personal items such as uniforms, personal protective equipment, clothing, towels, washcloths or razors that may have had contact with the infected wound or bandage.
• Wash towels, clothing and linens with detergent and heat dry rather than hang dry to help kill bacteria.
• Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed.
• Avoid contact with other people's wounds or bandages.
• Clean phones, doorknobs, computer keyboards and any other surfaces that might transfer the bacteria.
• Avoid use of whirlpools and swimming pools if you have MRSA.
• Avoid high sugar and processed foods which can lead to high blood sugar and infection.
• Eat a healthy diet, including fruits and vegetables in order to maintain a properly functioning immune system including foods like brown seaweed that contain fucoidan, a natural anti-bacterial and anti-viral agent. [3]