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Our Health

May 19, 2014

Uncovering the simple fix to the 'super bug'

The World Health Organization has identified a serious threat to human health around the globe. Known as a “superbug,” this antimicrobial resistant bacterial infection has been coined “AMR” (Antimicrobial Resistance).

This superbug has interfered with the effective treatment and prevention of various infections that are caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi. According to the WHO’s 257-page Global Report on Surveillance, this means that infectious cannot be controlled, the spread is often imminent and the risk of death is far greater. The report stated that “the problem is so serious that it threatens the achievements of modern medicine.”

The list of commonly known bacterium highly resistant to treatment includes the following:

- Escherichia coli (E-coli): a cause of urinary tract infections, blood infections

- Klebsiella pneumoniael: causes pneumonia, urinary tract infections and blood infections

- Staphylococcus aureus: wound infections, blood stream infections

- Streptococcus pneumoniael: causes pneumonia, meningitis and otitis

- Nontyphoidal Salmonella: foodborne diarrhea, blood stream infections

- Shigella species: causes bacillary dysenteria

- Neisseria gonorrheal: causes gonorrhea

Furthermore, four specific diseases have seen an increase in resistance to treatments because of the superbug: tuberculosis, malaria, HIV and influenza.

The WHO has indicated that the main “fix” for such resistance infections is to prevent the transmission of the organisms in the first place. In other words, the key takeaway from this report is improved hygiene. One of the most important elements that reduces the spread of infection is hand hygiene, or basically, washing your hands frequently. For developed nations like the United States, hand hygiene is more about educating people on the importance of hand-washing; yet for third-world nations, the problem lies in infrastructure such as access to clean water and the means to have improved hygiene.

While the practice of handwashing has been around for centuries for personal hygiene, it was only since the 1800s that the link between it and limiting the spread of diseases was identified. Studies have shown that organisms can survive on the hands for varying periods of time and could easily be spread through touch (a simple handshake or touching something another person has touched). Such bacteria include E-coli, influenza and rhinovirus — some of which can survive on your hands for up to an hour.

Handwashing can cut the spread of infections in half. That means you can ward off infections simply by keeping your hands clean. The problem lies in the handwashing technique itself. The WHO reported that most people do not know how to wash their hands effectively.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed easy guidelines to follow to wash your hands and, in essence, ward of infections. With the discovery of the “superbug” now wreaking havoc on the world, washing your hands often and correctly is a great weapon.

How to correctly wash your hands, as directed by the CDC:

1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.

2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.

3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. For a way to time yourself: sing “Happy Birthday” from beginning to end, twice.

4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.

5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

It is recommended to dry your hands and then use the paper towel to turn off the faucet so you do not reinfect your hands by touching the knob that you originally turned on with dirty hands.

It was also noted that hand sanitizers are good in a pinch, but they do not eliminate all germs that can accumulate on your hands. You should wash with soap and water as soon as you have the opportunity.

Nina Bell, Ph.D., MPH, is a public health professor with Ashford University and works in health promotions for the Meadville Family YMCA. She is a co-author of the book “Community and Public Health,” published by Bridgepoint Education Inc. You can email her at

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