Number of people on Earth to number of bacteria, that is. They’re everywhere. EVERYWHERE. And we’re making them stronger, and getting sicker because of it.
Courtesy Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Hey, nanoscale science, this is your cue!
[Enter nanoscale science]
Hi! I’m nanoscale science! And boy, have I got some whiz-bang anti-bacterial solutions for you!
For one, there’s this new type of drug that uses nanoparticles to poke holes in bacteria so they die. Sounds really promising against super-bugs…but then again, all the scientists are hoping that if the bacteria in question leave any survivors, we won’t end up with super, SUPER bugs. Because that would be so NOT super.
Because here’s the thing:
“The medical community has for so long been focused on killing as much of the bacteria as they can. Now the interesting thing about bacteria is that you can’t kill them all. You can kill 99% of them, but that 1% that you leave alive is the strongest 1%.” This is from Dr. Shravanthi Reddy – Director of Research at Sharklet Technologies, Inc. She makes a good point. “We can’t keep fighting that same traditional war. We kind of have to shift our thinking. Kind of convince them, ‘hey, you don’t want to settle here.’”
For two, Sharklet Technologies has created this stuff that mimics the skin of actual sharks. Turns out that sharks don’t ever get covered in algae or barnacles or anything like that, but whales and other marine life do. Why? It’s because shark skin has a very special pattern to it – called dermal denticles - a pattern that bacteria apparently hate and can’t really figure out how to properly colonize. There’s nothing chemical about it – it’s all about the shape of the material itself.
Our friends over at Nova made a great program about it:
Granted, we’re pretty limited with how we can treat nasty super-bacteria, like antibiotic-resistant staph infections and MRSA, once it’s in the human body – so we probably shouldn’t rule out our hole-poking options just yet - but we can put this awesome sharkskin technology to work in the places people are most likely to contract infections like those; hospitals being some of the worst offenders.
Makes you just want to go out and lick stuff, doesn’t it?
Researchers at Swansea University, in the UK, are developing an antibiotic that can fight the MRSA superbug. And they're using superbugs to do it. OK, not superbugs. They're using the secretions from the maggots of the common green bottle fly.
Courtesy National Institutes of Health
Super gross? Sure. And you won't see an ad for this antibiotic (Seraticin) on TV anytime soon. It takes some 20 maggots to make a single drop of the drug. So scientists have to fully identify it, figure out a way to synthesize it in the lab, test it on human cells, and put it through a clinical trial.
In the meantime, using live maggots on infected wounds is a time-tested way of beating infections. Dr. Alun Morgan, of ZooBiotic Ltd, told the BBC,
"Maggots are great little multitaskers. They produce enzymes that clean wounds, they make a wound more alkaline which may slow bacterial growth and finally they produce a range of antibacterial chemicals that stop the bacteria growing."
How effective are maggots? The University of Manchester has been doing research on diabetic patients with MRSA-contaminated foot ulcers. The patients treated with maggots were mostly cured within three weeks. Patients who got more conventional treatment needed 28 weeks.
There’s a new Superbug scare going on in the United States. The Staph Superbug is an evolved strain of staphylococcus aureus that is super-resistant to several common antibiotics. Called MRSA (for Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), its most recent victims are an 11-year-old Mississippi girl, and a 17-year-old Virginia student whose death resulted in the entire school district closing down. That was by no means an overreaction. Infections have been reported in four other states, and residents are becoming concerned. And no wonder. US officials warn that the Staph Superbug could infect 90,000 people this year in the United States. In 2005, more than 18,500 people died from it.
In the past, most MRSA infections were contracted mainly in hospitals or health care facilities, but what's got officials worried is that the infection is now showing up more in community-based locations such as daycare centers, prisons, and schools.
Many people carry Staph on their person without even knowing it. The bacteria can live in the nose or on the skin of healthy individuals without affecting them adversely. It's passed from one person to another by contact, and becomes a problem when it gets inside your body, through a cut or open sore. Usually, traditional antibiotics such as penicillin can defend against the germ. But in recent years, over-prescribing of antibiotics coupled with the bacteria’s ability to quickly evolve a resistance against those antibiotics has produced the current deadly strain of the bug.
Health officials say the best defense against Staph is good basic hygiene, such as washing your hands often, and not sharing personal items. JGordon wrote extensively about this in a previous post.
Symptoms of Staph infection can vary and depend on where the infection is located. Externally, it can show up as boils in the skin (furuncle) or as a red, warm and painful localized skin infection (cellulites), or cause blisters or honey-colored crusted skin lesions (impetigo), or infection of hair follicles (folliculitis). It's most dangerous when it infects the blood stream because then it can be transported anywhere in your body. These are but a few of the possible symptoms.
If you do get infected with MRSA, early treatment is critical. Two drugs that can defend against the Superbug are Vancomicin and Vactrum, but only if it’s caught in its early stages.
LINKS AND MORE INFO
Every year some 1.2 million Americans leave the hospital sicker than when they went in, thanks to a virulent strain of bacteria. Staphylococcus aureus (or “staph” for short) has been around forever, infecting wounds when hospitals don’t follow proper sterilization procedures. It has been treated with penicillin and antibiotics. But recently, a new strain has evolved which is immune to these treatments. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, this new strain may infect some 4.5% of all hospital patients—almost 10 times more than previously thought. Up to 119,000 people die each year from the disease.
Patients and hospitals can take steps to reduce the spread of this illness:
That last point is important. Using antibiotics when they’re not needed is dangerous, as it gives more germs a chance to develop immunity. At the same time, failure to use all the antibiotics prescribed runs the risk of not killing all the germs, leaving the strongest ones alive to multiply and spread.