Superbugs vs. our Super Immune System

This morning I was reading the news and I came across two headlines that had conflicting messages:

  • “Extremely Resistant Superbug Is Spreading Internationally”
  • “Superbug on the decline”

The first article was highlighting the spread of an Enterobacteriaceae bacteria producing an antibiotic resistant enzyme called New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1 (NDM-1).  The second article was referring to the decline in methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Superbugs get their name because these bacteria have established resistance to common antibiotics.  Resistance most frequently happens as a result of overuse and abuse of antibiotics.  Those bacteria that have some natural resistance to antibiotics survive, those that are susceptible will die.  Remember that whole survival of the fittest thing?   When you don’t finish your entire dose of antibiotics, it may kill off the susceptible bacteria, but leave behind those with some resistance.

Bacteria typically become resistant via genetic mutations.  In the case of the first news story, a strain of the bacteria mutated to create a new enzyme.  It just so happened that this enzyme conferred antibiotic resistance to the bacteria.  That resistant strain will continue to outpace its susceptible cousin and selective pressure will spread it worldwide.

Ok, that’s the bad news.  Now for the good news!  The most famous superbug, MRSA, is on the decline.  What lessons can we learn to prepare us for problems with NDM-1?  It is postulated that good ol’ handwashing is one of the primary reasons for the reduction in MRSA.  Another reason is better disinfection of surfaces in healthcare buildings.  Some of those lessons from my strict grandmother apparently go a long way!

So will the future of indoor air quality include sterilizing our schools, hospitals, offices and homes?  In all this talk about superbugs, we often lose sight of something that is even more formidable.  I’m referring to our super immune system.  Our innate and acquired immunity offers us protection that no spray bottle can compete with.  Our bodies are pathogen killing machines that have several weapons in our arsenal.  We have skin, mucous, cilia, perspiration, saliva, white blood cells, antibodies and more to help defend us.

So the lesson for today… spend more time on your immune system than worrying about super bugs.  What can you do to improve your immune system?  Here are the big 4:

  • Eat a nutritious diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Reduce stress in your life
  • Get a good night’s sleep

You’ll not only boost your immune system, you’ll have more energy and potentially live a more enjoyable life!

By Ian Cull

I'm I.A.N. the Indoor Air Nerd. I'm a speaker and consultant on indoor air quality issues. To learn more about me, click "about" at the top of this page.

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