Super Bugs.

I was stumped as to what to write my blog about so I rang my sister who is studying medicine and asked her if she could give me any inspiration. We proceeded to chat about antibiotic resistance and discussed a news article from the weeks news. In this article, they talked about the bacterium MRSA which interested my sister as it is a bacterium in hospital that she regularly encounters. MRSA stands for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus which is a strain of bacteria that is really difficult to treat in humans which she mentioned. The patients that are infected with this bacteria have to be screened and placed in a separate ward. The doctors and nurses working within these wards have to wear full safety gear to avoid contamination. To me, this seemed like extreme measures for a media exaggerated scare mongering superbug.

Following the talk with my sister I went on to do some research on common superbugs, namely MRSA. Antibiotic resistance is arguably the greatest threat to human health in the twenty first century. These bacteria have mutated and developed to become resistant to most or all antibiotics. Staphylococcus aureus the common original strain of the mrsa bacteria and is not always pathogenic.[1] It can be the cause of abscesses on the skin, skin infections, food poisoning and respiratory infections. This was first being treated in the 1940s with penicillin and 1950s it became more common. In 1961, we began using Methicillin to treat these resistant strains and within only a year of usage, resistant strains started to appear. These days MRSA is resistant to a large list of antibiotics including Vancomycin which is often considered a last line of defence. [2]

MRSA is carried by 30% of the population and is often found in areas such as under the armpits and around the groin.[2, 3] It only becomes a problem once it has penetrated into our skin. MRSA now contributes to more US deaths than HIV. 2] Resistant strains of bacteria is beginning to gain attention in the media.  The media label them superbugs and MRSA has appeared a number of times in the news this last month. There was a report that had findings from a study regarding hospitals screening for the bug.[4]

How does bacteria that causes a minor skin infection to start with become so scary. Media often refer to the superbugs as having developed or learnt to evade our bodies but infact it has evolved.[4] Bacteria can evolve quickly due to their short reproduction time and large population size. Despite the medias apparent scare mongering, antibiotic resistance is still a serious issue with around 700,000 dying worldwide due to this resistance. This number is only set to rise with an estimated 10 million fatalities annually by 2050. [5] Research and figures are scary but they highlight the importance of programs such as the one I’m involved. Phage hunt is a paper I take that aims to assist with the effort to find alternatives to antibiotics. Phage Hunt works to find bacteriophages that are able to destroy bacteria. Many strains of bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics and the bacteria that haven’t will soon become resistant with their rapid evolution.

In our lab we work with Mycobacterium Smegmatis which is similar to mycobacterium tuberculosis. I began to wonder if bacteriophages had had any success in the case of MRSA. I do not have to look far to find heaps of positive research that demonstrated using bacteriophage to successfully kill MRSA. One example was a student from Brigham Young University who had a keen interest in MRSA after his father had lost his leg due to the bacterial infection. The student was using a methods that was similar to the the ones we were using in our lab and  he was able to find six unique bacteriophages that could kill off MRSA cells and his research is continuing to find more.[2]

Other studies even incorporated phages with traditional antibiotics. [6] Continuing research in this field has exciting prospects with making a real difference in the fight against antibiotic resistance and bacterium superbugs.

 

 

 

  1. Staphylococcus aureus.
  2. New method to treat antibiotic resistant MRSA: Bacteriophages. Science daily, 2015.
  3. ChB, D.A.S.M., Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. 2015.
  4. Superbug, super-fast evolution. 2008.
  5. Rise of the Superbugs: How is Biotech Fighting Antibiotic Resistance? 2017.
  6. Sandeep Kaur, K.H., and Sanjay Chhibber, Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Phage Plaque Size

Enhancement Using Sublethal Concentrations of Antibiotics. American Society for Microbiology 2012. 78(23).

 

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