superbug characteristics

In the world of microbiology, the term "superbugs" has gained prominence in recent years. These multi-drug resistant bacteria have become a growing concern for the scientific community and public health in general. There are many myths and truths about superbugs.

Therefore, we are going to dedicate this article to tell you what superbugs are, their characteristics, importance and much more.

What are superbugs?

bacteria resistance

Superbugs are bacterial strains that have developed resistance to multiple antibiotics commonly used in medicine. Unlike conventional bacteria, these variants they possess genetic mechanisms that allow them to resist the effects of the most powerful antibiotics available today. This phenomenon is mainly due to the excessive and incorrect use of antibiotics in human and veterinary medicine.

New resistance mechanisms are emerging and spreading globally, jeopardizing the ability to treat common infectious diseases, leading to increased disability and death, and prolonged illness. Without effective antimicrobial drugs to prevent and treat infections, interventions such as organ transplants, chemotherapy, diabetes treatment, or major surgeries such as C-sections or hip replacements they become extremely risky procedures. Antibiotic resistance from superbugs increases healthcare costs due to longer hospital stays and the need for more intensive care.

Where are they and what are they for?

resistant bacteria

Superbugs can be found in a variety of settings, including hospitals, homes, communities, and the general environment. Their ability to survive and spread is due to their ability to quickly adapt to different conditions. In addition, some superbugs can also colonize the human body without causing infections, which makes them part of our normal bacterial flora.

In hospitals, for example, they are a significant problem due to the presence of patients with weakened immune systems and constant exposure to antibiotics. In homes and communities, superbugs can be transmitted through direct contact with infected people, contaminated objects, or even through contaminated food.

Regarding its function, some superbugs may have an important biological purpose. For example, certain strains of Staphylococcus epidermidis, a resistant bacterium commonly present on human skin, can help prevent the colonization of more harmful pathogens. These bacteria act as a kind of protective barrier in the human body.

Why do superbugs appear?

Antibiotics are abused and misused in many places, both in humans and animals, often without professional supervision. A clear example of the misuse of antibiotics is its use to treat viral infections such as colds or flu where antibiotics will never be able to cure its (since they do not affect viruses), use them as growth stimulants in animals, or prevent diseases in healthy animals. As bacteria are unnecessarily exposed to these antibiotics, the likelihood that the bacteria will become superbugs by developing resistance increases.

Drug-resistant microorganisms exist in humans, animals, and the environment. They can be spread from person to person or from person to animal, and through food of animal origin. Poor infection control, poor sanitation, and improper food handling can also breed superbugs.

Importance of superbugs

Despite their negative reputation, not all superbugs are harmful to the body. In fact, some resistant bacteria may play a beneficial role in human health. For example, the intestinal microbiota, which contains a variety of resistant bacteria, contributes to digestion, the synthesis of vitamins and the strengthening of the immune system.

Although the term "superbug" often conjures up images of dangerous and difficult-to-treat infections, not all strains are necessarily harmful. The human microbiome, which is the community of microorganisms that inhabits our bodies, contains resistant bacteria that perform crucial functions for our health.

For example, in the human intestine, there are a large number of bacteria that aid in digestion and the absorption of essential nutrients. In addition, these bacteria contribute to the synthesis of vitamins, such as vitamin K, necessary for blood clotting, and some B vitamins, They play a role in energy metabolism.

Main examples


Over the years, several worrying superbugs have been identified due to their resistance to multiple antibiotics. Some of the most prominent include:

  • Staphylococcus aureus methicillin-resistant (MRSA): This bacterium can cause serious skin infections, surgical wounds, and even bloodstream infections. It has become resistant to many common antibiotics, making it difficult to treat.
  • Enterococcus faecium Vancomycin-resistant (VRE): This bacterium can cause urinary tract infections, wound infections, and sepsis. Resistance to vancomycin, one of the most powerful antibiotics, makes it difficult to eliminate.
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae Carbapenem-resistant (KPC): This bacterium can cause urinary tract infections, respiratory infections, and sepsis. Resistance to carbapenems, a class of antibiotics of last resort, makes it a particularly dangerous superbug.
  • Escherichia coli Extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL)-producing bacterium: This bacterium is commonly found in the intestine and can cause urinary tract infections, bloodstream infections, and pneumonia. The production of extended-spectrum beta-lactamases makes it resistant to many antibiotics, which complicates its treatment.

How to protect yourself from superbugs

The prevention and control of superbugs are fundamental to maintaining our health and minimizing the risk of infections. Here are some steps we can take:

  • Responsible use of antibiotics: It is important to use antibiotics only when prescribed by a doctor and to follow the dosage instructions. Taking antibiotics as prescribed and completing the entire course of treatment helps prevent the development of bacterial resistance.
  • Proper hygiene: Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating, after using the bathroom, and when you get home.
  • Vaccination: Keeping recommended vaccinations up to date helps prevent infections that could be complicated by superbugs.

I hope that with this information you can learn more about superbugs and their characteristics.

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