The Truth About Super -Bugs
– Could Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria be hiding in your shopping cart?

Everyday Vitality


Superbugs are bacteria that are resistant to a wide range of bacteria and represent a health hazard as they are not easily cured by available medical therapies. One such super bug is MRSA. While there are others, MRSA is typical of this category and its spread and prevention follow the same pattern. For this reason, I will focus on MRSA.

MRSA is a collection of letters that stand for Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus. This is a bacterium (Staph) that is resistant to antibiotics. One of the antibiotics that it is resistant to is Methicillin. Hence the name.

MRSA is in the news quite a bit these days. The only wonder is why it has not been discussed sooner. MRSA was responsible for more deaths in 2006 than HIV AIDS. Yet there are no public education/information programs in place. I am writing about MRSA this month so that you can have useful information to protect you and your loved ones from MRSA.

MRSA was first identified in hospitals and attributed to the frequent use of antibiotics. The scientists agreed that over-prescribing of antibiotics by doctors was the cause. In 1992, Doctors were told that their use of antibiotics in the office setting was the cause of the resistant organisms in hospitals. As a practicing physician, I felt this could not be true because doctors do not prescribe Methicillin to patients in the office. Further, most patients seen in the office never end up in the hospital. Finally, most doctors are specialists that do not routinely prescribe antibiotics.

There just was not enough people seeing enough doctors who were prescribing methicillin to explain the occurrence of MRSA. At the same time, I was a volunteer speaker for the vegetarian society. I was researching the ill effects of eating meats. In 1993 my research revealed a fact that tied everything together for me. Antibiotics were being fed to chickens, cows and pigs to get them to grow faster. In other words, every person who ate poultry, pork, beef or dairy was getting antibiotics daily. I then became aware of catalogs that sold antibiotics to farmers for use in their live stock. These catalogs did not require a doctor or vetinarian to authorize the antibiotic use.

This widespread use of antibiotics explained the widespread resistance of Staph. This is the system that exposes whole populations to the same antibiotics. Further study revealed that 80% of all antibiotics consumed in the United States is consumed by livestock. In other words, doctors at best, control the use of 20% of antibiotics consumed in this country. This confirmed my suspicion that doctor prescribing alone could not explain the emergence of MRSA.

It goes something like this. Animals get antibiotics in their water and food. All sensitive bacteria die. Only the resistant bacteria survive. Consumers buy this meat and eat it. Since you are healthy, the resistant organisms just live on your skin or line your mucous membranes. Then, when you are admitted to a hospital, these resistant organisms get into your blood via the IV, urinary catheter, surgical wound.. Then, the nightmare begins.

Just about now, all you vegetarians out there are probably thinking that you are safe and your virtuous ways have spared you. Not so fast. It turns out that the factory farms dump the waste of these animals into the waterways. The streams and tap water in our country are filled with antibiotic residues and antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Yes, our worse fears are true, it is in the water. Quarantine measures can be expected to be useless against MRSA. This has been borne out by observation. The hospitals in Syracuse, where I used to practice Medicine, immediately instituted quarantine measures to limit the spread of MRSA. The quarantine wards got larger and larger. This method was not effective. While hand washing is nice, it can backfire. The doctor who is vigorously washing their hands between patients will develop breaks in his skin where bacteria can enter and infect him. Further, this infection is spread by the presence of the antibiotic, as well as the transfer of organisms.

In the recently, MRSA has been found in people who have never been hospitalized and have never been prescribed antibiotics. Particularly, high school athletes. This demographic has a high rate of ingesting processed meats thus a high exposure to foods rich in antibiotics and resistant bacteria as well as a high sugar diet which is the bacteria’s favorite food.

To make it very clear: Normal bacteria that are present on the skin convert to MRSA when exposed to antibiotics(often present in the food). Put another way, people who do not have MRSA develop MRSA by being exposed to antibiotics or MRSA itself through their food. A hospital – based or hand washing based approach will not solve this problem.

Did you every wonder why hospitals have people wash their hands BEFORE they visit patients? The hospital knows that a certain percentage of the public HARBORS MRSA. Washing your hands before you enter the hospital keeps you from sharing your MRSA. Washing your hands after you leave, prevents you from taking MRSA home with you in the event you did not already have it.

Resistance is transmitted by a piece of DNA called a plasmid. There are some members of every group of bacteria that contain a plasmid that makes them resistant to antibiotics. A bacteria that has a plasmid is resistant and can share copies of its plasmid with another bacteria causing the second bacteria to also become resistant to antibiotics. Kind of like file sharing on the internet. The second bacterium does not need to mutate (change its DNA) or even be exposed to the antibiotic. It just needs to be exposed to another bacterium that has resistance. Thus, resistance can spread quickly. Whenever bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, some are killed and the antibiotic resistant ones quickly share their plasmids to protect other bacteria against the antibiotic. This is the case with Staph. The Methicillin resistant strain, MRSA, can only dominate in the presence of antibiotics.  The same way a file takes up space on the hard drive and can slow the operation of a computer, carrying plasmids necessary for resistance is an energy burden and is a disadvantage to survival to bacteria with plasmids when there are no antibiotics around.

When MRSA is no longer exposed to antibiotics for as little as 1 week, 30% eject their plasmids and are no longer resistant to antibiotics. MRSA become MSSA (Methcillin Sensitive Staph Areus). In other words, the bad guys become not so bad guys. The longer the bacteria are not exposed to antibiotics, the more convert to the antibiotic sensitive (MSSA) form.

This brings up another false belief. OVERuse of antibiotics causes MRSA and resistance. A more accurate statement is that USE of antibiotics creates resistance. ALL use of antibiotics should be curtailed. Even in a medical setting, most antibiotics are used when there is no infection present. This represents marvelous marketing on the part of antibiotic manufacturers. They have positioned antibiotics as a preventative use when there is no infection and as first line use whenever there are infections. To avoid MRSA, one can avoid hospitals and avoid foods contaminated with antibiotics. To eliminate MRSA, one must eliminate the cause which is antibiotics.

Understanding this explains why focus on person person to person spread and isolation or quarantine is not effective.

I hope this helps increase understanding of why 48,000 people die each year from MRSA despite the best efforts of hospitals to curtail this plague.

I continue to do research on MRSA and would like to hear your comments.

Dr Jennifer Daniels

Use of Antibiotics in Animals: