Multi-resistant pathogens – what you should know about them

Infections caused by bacteria can usually be treated well with antibiotics. However, some bacteria are insensitive to many antibiotics. In this case one speaks of multiresistant pathogens – MRE for short. The best known is methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus – in short: MRSA. Most antibiotics are ineffective against these pathogens. Recently, the media have frequently reported on the dangers posed by MRSA and other multi-resistant pathogens. Many people are worried by this.

In this information you will learn for whom multi-resistant pathogens can be really threatening and how you can protect yourself and others.

At a glance

Infections with bacteria can usually be treated well with antibiotics. However, some bacteria are resistant to many different antibiotics. One speaks of multi-resistant pathogens (MRE). The usual drugs do not work then.

For healthy people, contact with MREs is usually completely harmless. However, you can transmit them to other people. People with weakened immune systems are at risk. If they develop an infection, treatment is more difficult because only a few antibiotics are still effective.

To protect yourself from infections, you should first of all wash your hands regularly and follow other hygiene rules.

How an infection with bacteria develops?

Bacteria are known pathogens. But they also protect our health: many bacteria naturally colonize our skin as well as the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, intestines and other organs. Together they form a protective barrier. So they make it more difficult for pathogens that cause disease to enter our bodies. In the case of a weakened immune system or injuries to the skin and mucous membranes, both foreign and endogenous pathogens can enter the body and trigger an infection. Common bacterial infections are pneumonia, urinary tract infections, wound or skin infections.

If the bacteria spread through the blood in the body, it is called blood poisoning. In the worst case, organ functions can fail. This can be life-threatening. For bacterial infections, antibiotics are usually well effective drugs. They kill or weaken the bacteria.

How multidrug-resistant pathogens develop?

Bacteria multiply very quickly and in large numbers. The genetic material can change in such a way that these pathogens become insensitive to antibiotics. These bacteria survive antibiotic treatment and pass on their resistance to others. If bacteria are resistant to many antibiotics (resistant), one speaks of Multi-resistance. Basically, these bacteria are no more dangerous than others. They also do not cause more frequent infections. But if an infection does occur, it is far more difficult to treat. Because only a few antibiotics are still effective here. Lab tests can tell you which antibiotics are still helping and which are not.

Multi-resistant bacteria arise primarily because antibiotics are not used correctly, i.e., dosed too frequently, too briefly or too low.

Risk factors for MRE infections

For healthy people with a good immune system, multi-resistant pathogens are usually harmless. This means that the risk of contracting the disease when coming into contact with these bacteria is very low. Healthy people can carry multidrug-resistant pathogens without getting sick themselves. They usually do not know that they are MRE carriers. This becomes problematic when they unknowingly transmit these pathogens to people with weakened defenses. They are especially at risk for developing infections, which are then harder to treat. The following factors increase the risk of getting an MRE infection:

  • Hospitalization within the last 6 months
  • Staying in a nursing home
  • permanent need for care
  • Antibiotic therapy within the last 6 months
  • open larger, poorly healing skin wounds
  • tubes (catheters) in the body, for example in the bladder
  • Diseases that weaken the immune system, for example diabetes mellitus, hepatitis, HIV
  • Medication that suppresses the immune system

For healthy MRE carriers, the pathogens can be a risk if they are operated on. MREs can enter the surgical wound and cause infection.

How common are MRE infections?

MRE infections are most likely to occur in facilities where many sick and weakened people are cared for, i.e. in hospitals and nursing homes. There are many patients with risk factors, especially in hospitals. Therefore, the risk for infection is greatest here: In Germany, about 500,000 people develop hospital-acquired infections each year, often from the body’s own bacteria. Approximately 30,000 infections are caused by multi-resistant pathogens. This means that about 6 out of every 100 hospital infections are caused by MREs.

What you can do yourself

  • The best protection against infections is not to spread pathogens further. This can be achieved if you follow hygiene rules. Many pathogens spread through direct contact via the hands. Therefore, in the very first place: Regular and thorough hand washing.
  • Towels, washcloths and hygiene items such as toothbrushes should only be used for yourself.
  • Your living environment should be clean. Common household cleaners are sufficient. Special disinfectants may be needed if a loved one has a contagious disease or immune deficiency. Seek medical advice.
  • Most pathogens do not survive temperatures above 60°C. Wash your dishes and linens regularly at higher temperatures.
  • If you are healthy, you can have normal contact with MRE carriers. Even hugs are possible. The risk of infection is extremely low. Wash your hands well afterwards.
  • In the hospital, special hygienic rules must be observed for MRE carriers or MRE sufferers in order to prevent MRE from being transmitted to other patients. Take into account the advice of the staff.
  • If you have open wounds or a severely weakened immune system, you should avoid contact with MRE carriers or MRE sufferers.

If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, be sure to use them as prescribed.

A general check to see if you are an MRE carrier is not necessary. Not even if you have had contact with a person with MREs.

You may need surgery and have a risk factor for MREs. Then you should discuss with your doctor whether a test for MREs can be useful in advance.

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