Frontline: Hunting The Nightmare Bacteria-Tues., Oct. 29 at 10pm

This week FRONTLINE investigates the dangers of becoming infected with drug-resistant bacteria.  With some drug-resistant bacteria showing up in the general population you have to ask yourself, how worried should I be?

To help us understand how real the risk is for each of us, FRONTLINE asked three infectious disease doctors these questions; what are the risks, how can we protect our selves, and what are the questions we need to ask when a loved one is in the hospital.

Dr. Sean Elliott is the medical director of infection prevention at the University of Arizona Health Network. Dr. Brad Spellberg is an infectious diseases specialist at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Dr. Wendy Stead is an infectious diseases specialist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

FRONTLINE has condensed their answers into eight handy tips to help keep bugs at bay.

1. Don’t Panic

Everyone may be at risk, but the chances of catching a drug-resistant bug outside of the hospital are small for most. Keep your home and work space clean. Be aware of the food you eat, wash fruits and vegetables carefully and cook other food properly to reduce your chance of coming into contact with harmful bacteria.

2. Know What to Look For

How do you know if you have a superbug?  While it’s impossible to give broad advice about so many different kinds of bacteria and if you’re concerned, you should call your doctor first.  According to Dr. Elliott “In general, fevers, if they’re accompanied by shaking chills, if they’re getting worse instead of better, that would suggest there’s a bacterial process..”

3. Wash Your Hands with Soap and Water. Really Wash Them.

Doctors say they cannot recommend this enough. “Wash your hands regularly and religiously in the normal times that you would think you should wash them,”  Dr. Stead says. “Give it a good amount of time”, about 15 seconds , “scrubbing hands thoroughly, not just in and out of the water.” Turn off the faucet using a paper towel.

4. Be Careful with the Antibacterial Soap

The FDA hasn’t determined whether these soaps are more effective than regular soap, and some doctors don’t recommend using them. The real key is the soap and water and the physical action, and keeping hands moisturized.

5. Ask Your Doctors to Wash Their Hands

“It is every patient’s right to have every health-care provider entering the room to have clean hands,” Elliott says. “We’re supposed to do it, we mandate 100 percent hand hygiene compliance, but the reality is that doesn’t happen,” he says.

6. Get A Flu Shot

“When people get influenza, they actually become at higher risk as they recover for complicating bacterial infections,” Stead says, because people with weakened immune systems are more vulnerable to other bugs.

7. Ask Whether You Need that Antibiotic

Doctors sometimes feel pressured by patients or their families to prescribe an antibiotic, even if it’s not necessary. Don’t assume you need one, antibiotics don’t work on viral infections like colds or the flu. If your doctor does recommend one, ask whether you really need it.

8. Advocate for Loved Ones in the Hospital

One of the ways drug-resistant bacteria spreads in hospital is through tubes inserted in the body, such as catheters. If someone you care about is on such a device, don’t be afraid to ask doctors whether they still need it, and when the tubes can come out.  Dr. Elliott says, the key “empowering patients or their advocates to stand up for their health-care needs.”


For the doctor’s full responses you can visit the FRONTLINE website; http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/ and be sure to watch FRONTLINE: HUNTING THE NIGHTMARE BACTERIA Tuesday, October 29 at 10pm on WOSU TV.  An encore presentation of the program will air on Wednesday, October 30 at 10pm on WOSU PLUS.

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