The superbug is not a universally known term, but it is increasingly being used in many industrialized countries to represent MRSA or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.
As the name suggests, this is a bacterium that is resistant to the antibiotic methicilin. MRSA is a strain of Staphylococcus aureus that often is found on the skin or in the nose. It can often cause minor problems such as boils, abscesses or rashes. It can also cause serious illnesses such as endocarditis, pneumonia, septicemia and meningitis, especially in the very young, the very weak, the elderly and those who are pregnant.
There are also strains of Staphylococcus aureus that are resistant to the antibiotics erythromycin, tetracycline and vancomycin and the oxazolidinone Linezolid.
Another bacterium that is known as a superbug in many regions is Enterococcus faecium. It also can demonstrate resistance to the above antibiotics.
How did it Happen?
Occasionally these bacteria will produce a mutant. Normally such a mutant would either not survive or have no effect on the their evolution. Occasionally, a mutant will have an extraordinary characteristic that is beneficial (to it, and not to us unfortunately). This is good old-fashioned natural selection. One of those characteristics is resistance to specific antibiotics. The wide use of antibiotics, especially in industrialized economies, has led to many of the non-resistant strains being killed off, leaving the mutant resistant strains behind and allowing them to multiply.
What is the Answer?
1. We need to reduce the liberal use of antibiotics otherwise we will inevitably see more resistant bacteria. This is not a solution to the current problem, but a way to prevent (or at least curtail) the evolution of new superbugs.
2. A new method is to allow a controlled release of a virus – called a phage – that will attack bacteria. Phage therapy is still under development but may be a lifeline in the battle against the superbug.
3. We must improve hygiene so that the bacteria do not appear in the first place. This means we must wash our hands when we visit the washroom and use biocidal wet wipes where appropriate. Disease-carrying flies and wasps must be prevented from entering vulnerable locations such as kitchens, hospitals, kindergartens and rest homes using fly screens. If they do enter, they must be killed using fly killing machines.