Antibiotic Resistance and the Emergence of Superbugs

Antibiotics are a vital class of drugs that are widely used for treating infections and saving many precious lives. From mild urinary tract infection to life-threatening sepsis, antibiotics play a critical role in medicine. However, the misuse and overuse of antibiotics have given rise to another nuisance, the antibiotic resistance.

What is Antibiotic Resistance and Superbugs? 

Bactria and other pathogenic microbial species do respond to ‘selective pressure’ and have remarkable resilience, just like every other living being. When frequently exposed to antibiotic drugs, bacteria can develop ways to evade the drugs meant to kill or weaken them. This phenomenon is called ‘antibiotic resistance’. Antibiotic resistance is a product of large and often careless use of antibiotics.

At present, bacterial infections are one of the major health concerns throughout the world and we rely on antibiotics to treat them. No doubt, antibiotic resistance is among the world’s most pressing public health problems. The antibiotic resistance is linked to the rise of superbugs— a term that suggests that the infectious or pathogenic bacteria is resistant to major (if not all) antibiotics which were supposed to kill them under usual circumstances.  Superbugs are mostly bacteria but it can be any other infectious microbe such as fungi. The antibiotic-resistant microbe no matter bacteria or fungi is difficult to control and treat.

The Causes Of Microbial Antibiotic Resistance 

The recent rise in antibiotic resistance and the consequent emergence of superbugs is partly associated with the overuse of antibiotics. There is no way to stop antibiotic resistance entirely because it is a part of the natural selection and evolution of germs. What we can do is be aware of this issue so that we can deal with it and manage it properly. It is important for both doctors and patients to take steps to avoid antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotics Resistance – A Threat to Global Health Care   

In year 2013, the US Center Of Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) published data on Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States. This report suggested that every year in United States, at least 2 million people were infected with antibiotic resistant germs and about 23,000 people died as a result. The updated statistics of year 2019 suggested that more than 2.6 million antibiotic-resistant infections and nearly 44,000 deaths happen each year when the 2013 report was published.  It suggests that the number of deaths caused by antibiotic resistance each year is nearly two-timed higher compared to the 2013 report.

Considering the urgency to deal with and to control the antibiotic resistance, the center of disease control and prevention listed 18 germs into one of three categories: urgent, serious, and concerning.  When an infectious microbe becomes superbug, it rapidly attacks and spreads the infection to many. Moreover, it is really difficult to treat or control it as it resists almost all the antibiotics available for its control.  The proper and more specific use of antibiotics is probably the best solution to control this global threat.  Moreover, the timely detection and prevention of infections could have a large, positive public health impact.

The Center Of Diseases Control And Prevention has recently released a report ‘Antibiotic Resistance Threats In the United States, 2019’. The report classifies the antibiotic resistant microbes based on their risks:

The highest risk microbes and others that are antibiotic-resistant can pose serious threats to health. These include:

  • Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
  • Vancomycin resistant enterococci   
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae    
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis
  • Some strains of salmonella
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Shigella
  • Campylobacter

Hospitals are a major source of drug-resistant infections especially the methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The particular group of microbes which are associated with most of the antibiotic-resistance infections in hospital settings includes: 

  • Enterococcus faecium
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae
  • Acinetobacter baumannii
  • P. aeruginosa
  • Enterobacter species

Stronger strains of these bacterial species have gradually developed antibiotic resistance and now show little or no response to antibiotics. Some of these are even resistant to alcohol-based sanitizers and disinfectants that many hospitals use.

Are there any Specific Signs and Symptoms? 

The answer is no. There are no particular signs or symptoms which indicate that the person is infected with a superbug. The person will likely experience the similar symptoms that they would if they had a usual infection.

However, time can help indicate that a person is having a superbug infection. In that case, the infection will not respond well to treatment, and the person’s symptoms are expected to get much worse. The doctors may also run tests to verify whether the germ causing the infection is drug resistant or not.

Superbugs infection can be life-threatening as we have only a limited range of antibiotics and medicines to treat infections. Keeping in view the current status of antibiotic resistance, it is imperative to develop new and better treatment strategies and antibiotics against these pathogenic microbes. Nevertheless, this will take time. Thus, the need for the hour and probably the best solution to restrict and control antibiotic resistance and development of superbugs is to limit the use of antibiotics too.

Preventing Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotic resistance and superbugs are natural processes that can be slowed down only. As such, there is no option to stop it completely. Being aware of the risks and being responsible for antibiotic use is one major step towards controlling this issue. People can and should take steps to reduce widespread antibiotic use such as:

  • Use antibiotics only when necessary: doctors should prescribe antibiotics only when absolutely necessary. Also, people who take antibiotics as self-medication or at the suggestion of some friend should consult a doctor before taking antibiotics.

  • Apply the shortest effective treatment: The timing matters. The doctors should prescribe the shortest possible course so as the bacteria are less frequently exposed to antibiotics.

  • Antibiotics are not suitable for viral infections: unnecessary use of Antibiotics has no effect on illnesses caused by viruses. For instance, you do not have to take antibiotics for treating common flu.

  • Prevent infections: Personal hygiene and proper sanitization effectively prevent microbial infections. Do as much as you can to prevent infections in the first place.


Antibiotic resistance and the rise of superbugs is a serious threat to global health care. On medical and research sides, the researchers are constantly working to develop better and more effective antibiotics.  However, people and the doctors should also play their role to control this issue as much as possible. Knowing is half the battle. People should be aware of the issue and what they can do in this regard. For the health care providers, the principle should be the right dose of the right drug, at the right time and for right duration. It is crucial to take steps to prevent infections and to avoid misuse of antibiotics.