Most people are already familiar with the superbug MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium that is already resistant to commonly used antibiotics) and C. Difficile (a bacterium that can cause infection in humans after antibiotics have killed off the good bacteria), but not yet have heard of ESBLs.
ESBL-producing bacteria have joined the growing number of antibiotic resistant pathogens that cause hospital-acquired infections. Washing hands is the most effective way of preventing the spread of ESBL immune factor producing bacteria.
ESBL stands for "extended-spectrum beta lactamase". ESBL bacteria are different from other superbugs, because ESBL does not refer to one specific kind of bacteria. For instance, MRSA refers specifically to methicillin-resistant strains of Staphylococcus Aureus. Instead, EBSL refers to an antibiotic-resistance enabling enzyme that the bacteria are producing, as a means of protecting themselves against attack.
It would seem that bacteria have responded to the worldwide overuse of antibiotics in farming and medicine by creating beta lactamase, an enzyme that can give the bacteria immunity to each new antibiotic they encounter.
ESBL enables resistance not only to penicillin, but to cephalosporin antibiotics also (antibiotics whose names begin with "Cef-").
Many different species of bacteria can produce the ESBL enzymes although the most common ESBL producing bacteria are E. coli and Klebsiella. Both are common culprits in urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Other bacteria that are thought to produce the ESBL enzyme are: K. pneumoniae, Salmonella, Proteus mirabilis and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
Preventing the spread of hospital acquired and now community infections like the ESBL producers is the best defence against them. Without a route of transmission, the bacteria cannot travel to new hosts and make more people sick. Washing hands frequently and effectively is an obvious way of preventing transmission, as is sterilising equipment and keeping handles and surfaces clean.
It is not rude to remind nurses, care providers, doctors, hospital employees, work colleagues, family and friends to wash their hands frequently. Wash your own hands before eating or touching your face, and of course, thoroughly in hot water after using the toilet. Should you be unlucky enough to develop an ESBL producing bacterial infection, there are options.
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