It's frightening to think that a child could contract a deadly drug-resistant staph infection while hospitalized. Or that an otherwise healthy person could pick up Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) through skin contact.

Until recently, the superbug phenomenon was limited primarily to hospitals, affecting the infirmed and otherwise immuno-compromised almost exclusively. However, several highly publicized recent outbreaks have extended beyond the very old and the very young to the general population.

The MRSA Crisis

One example of this is MRSA, which was discovered in 1961. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have estimated that the number of MRSA infections treated in hospitals doubled nationwide, from 127,000 in 1999 to 278,000 in 2005. During the same period, MRSA-related deaths increased from 11,000 to more than 17,000.

Though these statistics may seem daunting, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk. Since most disease transmission occurs from human contact, the most practical advice involves proper hand-washing, before and after direct contact with other people, or after an extended time at the gym, in the workplace, or on public transportation. This means washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with antibacterial soap.

Taking Control

Incorrect use of antibiotics can lead to the creation of drug-resistant superbugs. It's imperative that you practice proper antibiotic use. To get started, follow these guidelines.



  • Understand when antibiotics should be used. Antibiotics are effective in treating most bacterial infections, but they're not useful against viral infections, such as colds or the flu. As many as half of outpatient antibiotic prescriptions written every year are unnecessary, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Take antibiotics exactly as prescribed. Follow your doctor's precise instructions when taking prescribed medication. Avoid stopping treatment a few days early if you start feeling better a complete course of antibiotics is needed to kill all of the harmful bacteria.
  • Never take antibiotics without a prescription. Using leftover antibiotics or passing them onto another person is never a good idea. The antibiotic might not be appropriate for your own or another person's illness. And even if it is, you're not likely to have enough pills needed to combat the germs making you sick, which can lead to more resistant bacteria, according to the CDC.
  • Do not pressure your doctor for antibiotics if you have a viral illness. Instead, talk with your doctor about alternate ways to relieve your symptoms.