Superbug Spread Diminishes But Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Still Baffles Doctors

Scott Falkner

The superbug that has reared its head as of late is baffling doctors, though now researchers are insisting that it doesn’t seem to be spreading… for the moment.

Last week, a 2 year-old girl in Connecticut was identified as the fourth person to be infected with the superbug – a bacteria that is classified as being resistant a last resort antibiotic called colistin. The fear is that the superbug will spread its antibiotic resistant abilities to other bacteria that are already resistant to other types of medicines and the result will be a bacteria that is unstoppable. But so far, according to the Centers for Disease and Control, that doesn’t seem to be happening.

antibiotic resistance
[Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images]

Up to until 2014, superbugs haven’t been a factor in the United States. Superbugs have existed elsewhere in the world, but until a 76-year-old man that was determined to have been infected by a superbug that was resistant to colistin as well as other major league antibiotics reserved to treat difficult bacterial infections. Before that, every bacterial infection had been able to be treated by antibiotics.

The threat of a superbug exchanging genetic traits with other kinds of bacteria is very real. Researchers say that bacteria often do this, and the combination of this latest colistin-related superbug giving its antibiotic resistant abilities to another form of bacteria is terrifying to the medical community.

The 2-year-old that appeared with the superbug in Connecticut last week apparently caught it while on a trip with her family to the Caribbean in June. The young girl presented with severe diarrhea, but that was determined to have been caused by another bug. However, when the lab testing came back when she was brought to the hospital, it was determined that the girl also was infected with a superbug, an E. coli infections that were resistant to colistin. Doctors tested six other family members, and none of them tested positive for the superbug that the little girl carried. Luckily, the girl was treated for the bug that was responsive to antibiotics and is currently recovering well.

When arriving at the conclusion that the superbug isn’t yet intertwining its genetic properties with other bugs, they also provided an update on one of the other superbug cases. Last May, a Pennsylvanian woman presented with a superbug that was resistant to colistin. After an extensive investigation, researchers were unable to discover exactly where the woman picked up the superbug. They tested more than a 100 people to determine whether or not she had spread the superbug to others, or whether she’d been infected by someone else she’d recently come into contact with, but none of the testing exhibited proof that anyone else had been infected with the superbug.

antibiotic resistance
[Photo Courtesy of U.S. Army Medical Research and Development/Getty Images]

Based on this initial research, scientists at the CDC are hopeful that the superbug won’t turn into a widespread phenomenon, but they still urge healthcare providers to be cautious. It is feared that by over treating individuals with antibiotics, modern medicine is actually training bacteria to be more resistant to it. When patients are given antibiotics for illnesses that don’t need it, those antibiotics, in the end, produce more drug-resistant germs, or superbugs. When a bacteria survives the use of a drug, it becomes a superbug, and then when it multiplies it passes on its drug resistant traits, and, as stated above, it can also intermingle its genetic makeup with other germs.

Common illnesses that are often treated by antibiotics – but that do not benefit from the use of antibiotics are the common cold, the flu, bronchitis, most coughs and sore throats, some ear and sinus infections and the stomach flu. If these things are treated with antibiotics, the treatment is only contributing to the production and proliferation of the superbug.

[Photo by Manfred Rohde, Helmholtz-Zentrum fuer Infektionsforschung (HZI)/Getty Images]