How to protect yourself against superbugs and antibiotic resistance

Health

In light of a new report warning of the predicted rise in the percentage of bacterial infections that are resistant to antibiotic treatments, here’s a look at the steps you can take.

On Tuesday, the Council of Canadian Academies released “When Antibiotics Fail: The growing cost of antimicrobial resistance in Canada,” a report that predicts antimicrobial resistance could kill nearly 400,000 Canadians in the next 30 years and cost the economy about $400 billion.

According to experts, the unnecessary overuse of antimicrobials, the most common of which are antibiotics, has contributed to the growing resistance among the micro-organisms that cause illness.

That means, over the long-term, the more people use drugs to treat their illnesses, the less effective those treatments become.

According to Health Canada, the best way to combat antimicrobial resistance is to stay healthy in the first place. That means maintaining proper hygiene, and keeping your hands clean is paramount. Frequent hand-washing is recommended, using soap or hand sanitizer for at least 20 seconds.




If you do get sick, Health Canada warns against spreading the infection. You can reduce the chances by coughing or sneezing into your sleeve rather than your hands, for example.

Health Canada also suggests:

  •  Avoiding handling food or touching shared objects when sick
  •  Staying home until you feel better
  •  Keeping shared surfaces in your home clean
  •  Safely storing, handling and preparing food, including thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables that are eaten raw
  •  Avoiding resistant sexually transmitted infections by practicing safe sex
  •  Ensuring your vaccinations are up to date
  •  Regularly testing well water

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a University of Toronto associate professor who specializes in infectious diseases, also cautions against taking antibiotics unless they are absolutely necessary to treat of an infection.

“Quite frankly, we have to be careful about using antibiotics unnecessarily,” he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview. “At an individual level, that means using antibiotics in an appropriate manner. A lot of times people go to the doctor they might have a viral illness and the doctor doesn’t want to give antibiotics and people might shop around until they get a subscription for something and that’s unnecessary.”




Beyond the precautions individuals can take, Bogoch believes the best way to fight antibiotic resistance is with a three-pronged government policy that promotes the development of new drugs, stopping the inappropriate use of antibiotics and ensuring proper stewardship over antibiotics in humans and food production.

“A lot of people focus on the development of new antibiotics as the solution, that’s not the solution, that is one piece of a much larger puzzle,” he said, cautioning a legislative approach in Canada might not be enough if other countries don’t take steps too.

“We’ve seen that infections that emerge and resistance mutations emerge in one part of the world quickly make it to other parts of the world because of the mobility of humans,” he said.

“It’s not enough for Canada to do its part. This is a global effort.”

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