Five Dangerous Superbugs

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Five Dangerous Superbugs

E. coli Bacteria
This is a colored scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of Escherichia coli bacteria (red) taken from the small intestine of a child. E. coli are Gram-negative rod-shaped bacteria that are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics such as carbapenem. Stephanie Schuller/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Five Dangerous Superbugs

A superbug, or multi-drug resistant bacteria, is defined as a bacteria that is resistant to multiple antibiotics. The term can also describe hardy and infectious diseases that are difficult to treat using modern medicine, including viruses such as HIV. Approximately, 2 million people contract diseases caused by a superbug each year, and about 20,000 people die from such infections. Any species of bacteria can become a superbug, and misuse of antibiotics is the leading contributing factor to this growing issue. The five types of superbugs listed below are growing threats, as signified by the 2015 White House report to combat drug-resistant bacteria.

How can you protect yourself from superbugs? Although superbugs are resistant to many strong antibiotics and can cause serious infections, many experts say that the best way to protect yourself is simply to use antibiotics properly and wash your hands often with soap and water. You should also be sure to cover cuts with bandages and not share personal toiletry items. Since most infections from superbugs are acquired in hospitals or healthcare facillities, medical establishments have instituted a number of guidelines for sterilization and patient contact procedures to reduce the risk of healthcare-acquired disease.

Superbug: Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE)

CRE are a bacterial family usually found in the digestive system. Many of these bacteria are resistant to most types of antibiotics, including the last resort treatment – carbapenem. One such example is E. coli. These bacteria are usually harmless to healthy people but can cause infections to hospitalized patients with other complications. CRE cause blood infections with no current effective treatments. The most common transmission is from contaminated medical tools placed in the body during surgeries or other procedures.

Five Dangerous Superbugs

  1. Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE)
  2. Neisseria gonorrhoeae
  3. Clostridium difficile
  4. Multi drug-Resistant Acinetobacter
  5. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)


  • "Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria." U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Updated September 15, 2015. (
  • "Diseases and Organisms in Healthcare Settings." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated March 26, 2014. (
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Five Dangerous Superbugs

Gonorrhea Bacterium
Conceptual visualization of the gonorrhea bacterium (Neisseria gonorrhoeae) that causes the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea. Science Picture Co/Subjects/Getty Images

Neisseria gonorrhoeae - Antibiotic-Resistant Gonorrhea

Neisseria gonorrhoeae cause the sexually transmitted disease known as gonorrhea. According to researchers at the University of Rochester in New York, these bacteria are becoming more resistant to antibiotics and will soon be a more urgent threat. Unlike other infections, people who are infected often do not show symptoms for up to two weeks after initial contamination, and some people never develop any symptoms. Neisseria gonorrhoeae can cause blood infections and also increase risk for HIV and other STDs. This infection is only spread through sexual transmission or from a mother to baby during childbirth.

Next > Clostridium difficile (C. diff)

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Five Dangerous Superbugs

Clostridium difficile bacteria
Clostridium difficile bacteria are rod-shaped bacteria that cause pseudomembranous colitis, one of the most common hospital-acquired infections, and antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Treatment is with antibiotics, although it is becoming increasingly resistant to them. Biomedical Imaging Unit, Southampton General Hospital/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Clostridium difficile (C. diff)

Clostridium difficile are bacteria usually found in the intestines that are harmless in small number; however, different stimuli can trigger overgrowth and thus infection. Antibiotic-resistant C. diff is difficult to treat. These rod-shaped bacteria cause life-threatening diarrhea, which in some cases requires surgical removal of some parts of the infected intestine to cure. People who regularly take antibiotics are at the highest risk for infection, as depleting the healthy bacteria in the gut allows C. diff to overgrow. These bacteria spread from person to person through spores released from an infected individual left in bathrooms, on linens or on clothes. According to the CDC, C. diff caused nearly half a million infections and 15,000 deaths among patients in one year in the United States alone.

Next > Multi drug-Resistant Acinetobacter

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Five Dangerous Superbugs

Acinetobacter baumannii Bacteria
This SEM depicts a highly magnified cluster of Gram-negative, non-motile Acinetobacter baumannii bacteria. Acinetobacter spp. are widely distributed in nature, and are normal flora on the skin. Some members of the genus are important because they are an emerging cause of hospital acquired pulmonary, i.e., pneumoniae, hemopathic, and wound infections. CDC/Janice Haney Carr

Multi drug-Resistant Acinetobacter

Acinetobacter are a family of bacteria naturally found in the dirt and various water sources. They can live on the skin for several days without causing infection. Most strands are relatively harmless; however, Acinetobacter baumannii is a worrisome superbug strand. This bacterium can quickly develop antibiotic resistance more rapidly than other types of bacteria and can lead to serious lung, blood and wound infections. Acinetobacter baumannii is most commonly contracted in hospital settings from breathing tubes and other apparatuses.

Next > Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)

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Five Dangerous Superbugs

MRSA Bacteria
This scanning electron micrograph (SEM) depictes numerous clumps of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, commonly referred to by the acronym, MRSA. CDC/ Janice Haney Carr/Jeff Hageman, M.H.S.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA are bacteria commonly found on the skin and the nostrils that are resistant to penicillin and penicillin-related drugs. Healthy persons typically do not contract an infection from these bacteria but can transmit the bacteria to others. MRSA often infects hospital patients after surgery and can cause serious lung and blood infections, as the bacteria spreads from the wound to surrounding tissues and the blood. Rates of infection in hospitals have decreased in recent years, however, due to safer medical procedures. These bacteria have also been known to cause infections among athletes, including those in schools, by spreading through skin-to-skin contact with increased rate through cuts.

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