10 Dangerous Superbugs the World Health Organization Is Warning Everyone About
Superbugs are scary pathogens that are resistant to mainstream antibiotics, and they're on the rise. These are the ones to worry about.
This little bacterium is listed as a “critical” superbug, according to the World Health Organization. It’s most commonly found in hospitals where infections are easy to pass along. The National Institute of Health says its rise is “largely associated with infected combat troops returning from conflict zones,” and an increase in resistant strains. Your plan of action: Always make sure to wash your hands (but not like this) and touch as few things as possible when you’re at a hospital and even a doctor’s office. Remember, even the elevator button could be harboring pathogens!
Another “critical” bug on the rise is Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which is also commonly spread in hospital environments. According to the CDC, this pathogen occurs in people with blood infections, pneumonia, infections after surgery, and in patients on breathing machines. A more mild type of Pseudomonas aeruginosa can occur after exposure to infected water, resulting in ear infections and rashes, according to the CDC. Make sure to use good hygiene practices in all hospitals, and make sure to avoid dirty or poorly cleaned pools and tubs. (Here’s how you know a pool is grosser than it looks.)
You may know this bacterium by another name: E. coli. Enterobacteriaceae is actually a family of bacteria found in hospitals settings, nursing homes, and other health-related settings, according to the CDC. E. Coli can also be found on common everyday objects like shopping cart handles. It is highly resistant to antibiotics, and is becoming more and more of a problem in older people with weakened immune systems. According to the CDC, some types of Enterobacteriaceae can kill up to 50 percent of those affected, though healthy people who don’t have a weakened immune system usually do not need to worry about the more serious consequences of this pathogen. Still, it’s a good idea to be aware of food recalls or E. coli outbreaks nearby.
Livestock usually contract the Salmonella bacterium, passing it down through the food chain onto your plate. According to the WHO, salmonella is contracted “through the consumption of contaminated food of animal origin (mainly eggs, meat, poultry, and milk).” However, vegetables and fruit contaminated by manure can also carry this pathogen. The WHO recommends that you ensure your food is cooked thoroughly, that you avoid raw milk products and ice, and wash all fruits and vegetables before cooking or eating. Here’s how being messy in the kitchen could allow bacteria to thrive.
You may have learned about these bacteria in your high school sexual education class. Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease that is common in young people between the ages of 15 to 24, according to the CDC. This disease is spread by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who carries the STD. As it is becoming more antibiotic resistant, it is important to always practice safe sex. Since sexually transmitted diseases are actually on the rise and harder than ever to beat, don’t be shy about asking any partner to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases, and always use a condom.
This dangerous bacterium can live in your digestive tract for years. According to WebMD, after a few years of housing the pathogen, your body can start producing potentially cancer-causing ulcers. Even scarier: About two-thirds of the world has H. pylori in their body already, according to WebMD. It’s most prevalent in poor countries without access to fresh water and sanitation systems. If you are living in the United States, feel thankful for your relatively clean tap water. (Do you know what’s really in your drinking water, though?)
Ranked as a “medium” risk on the WHO’s list, Haemophilus influenzae can affect people of all ages. It can cause mild reactions like an ear infection or more severe reactions like a blood infection or pneumonia. According to the CDC, Haemophilus influenzae lives in the nose and throat and is spread by an infected person coughing or sneezing. In order to prevent contracting this pathogen, it’s important to get the vaccine (known as Hib) that protects against the most common Haemophilus influenzae strain.
Commonly referred to as “staph infections,” Staphylococcus aureus causes skin infections, pneumonia, food poisoning, and blood poisoning. According to Medline Plus, skin infections are the most common types of infections, presenting as red, swollen, and painful boils or pimples. However, MRSA (methicillin-resistant) staph infections are resistant to more antibiotics, making them harder and harder to treat. To reduce your risk of MRSA, the CDC recommends maintaining good hygiene, keeping wounds clean and covered (here’s how to know if a cut or scrape is infected), and avoid sharing personal bathroom items.
This “high” risk superbug is normally found in the digestive system of animals such as poultry and cattle, according to the WHO. As a food borne disease, it is frequently found in undercooked meat products, contaminated dairy and water, and animal carcasses. The symptoms of Campylobacter spp include diarrhea, stomach pain, fever, nausea, and vomiting, according to the WHO. In order to avoid infection, the WHO recommends cooking all food thoroughly and washing your hands after touching any raw meat.