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Deadly Hospital Superbugs: How to Protect Yourself

male patient and a nurse

The hospital, as the saying goes, is no place for a sick person. That’s particularly true when it comes to drug-resistant superbugs that cause deadly bacterial infections. This month federal officials reported an alarming rise in hospital infections from a rare, almost-untreatable microbe over the past decade.

But there are steps you can take to protect yourself from these lethal hard-to-treat infections, notes top cardiologist and Newsmax Health contributor Chauncey Crandall, M.D. The key is knowing what you’re up against and how to combat lethal germs.

“Hospitals are really an environment of these resistant bugs,” Dr. Crandall tells Newsmax Health. “You have chronically ill patients there, they are put on antibiotics, and they’re switched from one antibiotic to another. And this creates a resistant bacteria that is really living in the hospital wards … It’s always there, it never leaves.”

The problem, Dr. Crandall notes, is that we are an “antibiotic culture” that overuses these drugs, which promotes resistance. 

To protect yourself, he recommends washing your hands often if you’re hospitalized — and making sure your healthcare providers do the same. That’s particularly true for people who are sick, have chronic conditions like diabetes, or compromised immune systems that make them more prone to infection.

It’s also a good idea to avoid taking antibiotics as much as possible.

“People always want an antibiotic when they’re sick, [but] if you have the flu or a virus, you know an antibiotic is not going to help you,” Dr. Crandall explains. “So try to stay away from antibiotics as much as possible and this will ensure that you do not develop an antibiotic resistant infection.”

Other recommendations for reducing your risk of contracting a resistant infection during a hospital stay:

  • Ask visitors to wash their hands when they enter your room.
  • Demand that nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers have clean hands before examining you.
  • Keep your own hands clean by using hand sanitizers, as well as soap and water.
  • Practice good hand-washing hygiene even after you leave the hospital, because many common items we encounter every day — from gas pump handles, to door knobs, and TV remotes in hotel rooms and other places — are laden with germs that can cause illness.

“The biggest carriers of [resistant] bacteria in the hospital are the nurses and the medical personnel,” Dr. Crandall notes. “Many of these people do not wash their hands after they examine the patient, so insist when they walk into the room that their hands are washed and that they’re clean.

“Many of the hospitals are now putting sanitizers along the walls and in the rooms and alerts at the sink for the hospital personnel to wash their hands. So the best thing that can be done so that we don’t spread this from patient to patient is to wash their hands.”

Dr. Crandall’s recommendations come on the heels of a new warning issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about a sharp jump in hospital infections from what officials describe as a “nightmare superbug” — known as CRE (short for Carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae) — rarely seen only a decade ago.

The rise in CRE, which is resistant to nearly all last-resort antibiotics, prompted government health officials to renew warnings for U.S. hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare settings.

CRE is not only difficult to treat, but those infected with it can take more than a year before they test negative for the bacteria. According to the CDC report, nearly 200 U.S. hospitals — about 4 percent — saw at least one case of CRE in the first six months of last year.

Health officials said CRE cases have turned up in 42 states. In 2001, U.S. hospitals reported that only 1 percent of samples from the bacterial family were resistant to the antibiotic carbapenems. By 2011, it had risen to 4 percent.

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