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6 Things You Can Do Right Now to Protect Yourself From the New Superbug

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Behold, the Superbug has arrived! But we're not talking about the latest comic book movie; this is real life—and it's so much scarier than anything Marvel could dream up. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced a case of a woman with a type E. coli bacteria resistant to the last-resort antibiotic colistin, making the disease resistant to all known drug treatments. This is the first case found in the U.S. (Psst... "Super Gonorrhea" Is Also a Thing That's Spreading.)

The woman, who went to a clinic thinking she just had a urinary tract infection, is fine now, but if this antibiotic-resistant superbug were to spread, it would take the world back to a time when there were no antibiotics, said Tom Frieden, M.D., the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington. "It is the end of the road for antibiotics unless we act urgently," he said, adding that there are likely other cases of the E. coli with the same mcr-1 gene mutation.

This isn't a small matter. The most recent CDC data shows more than two million people are infected by drug-resistant bacteria each year, and 23,000 die of their infections in the U.S. alone. The World Health Organization says antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest health threats mankind is facing, reporting that drug-resistant cases of diarrhea, sepsis, pneumonia and gonorrhea are infecting millions more globally.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to both protect yourself and help the problem before it reaches crisis levels.

1. Ditch antibacterial soap. Antibacterial soaps, mouthwashes, toothpastes, and other cosmetic products containing Triclosan are increasing the rate of antibiotic resistance, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Plus, research shows they don't clean you any better than regular old soaps. Some states have already banned them entirely.

2. Build up your good bacteria. Having a healthy microbiome, especially in your gut, is your best first-line defense against bad bacteria. The good bacteria boost and protect your immune system, not to mention having a ton of other great health benefits. You can take a good probiotic supplement or simply add tasty, natural probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi to your diet.

3. Don't beg your doctor for antibiotics. When you're feeling awful, it can be tempting to just want some medicine to make you feel better. There's nothing worse than going in with a bad case of the flu only to have your doc tell you that your only option is to go back home and suffer. But don't try and talk him or her into giving you antibiotics "just in case". Not only will they not help a viral infection, like the flu or a cold, but the more we use antibiotics the more bacteria "learn" to resist them, worsening the problem. (Do You *Actually* Need Antibiotics? A Potential New Blood Test Could Tell.)

4. Get screened for STDs. Thanks to the recent surge in drug-resistant gonorrhea and syphilis cases, sexually transmitted diseases are now one the leading causes of scary bacterial infections. The only way to stop these bugs is to get them treated as soon as possible, before they can spread to other people. This means it's super important to make sure you're getting checked on a regular basis. (Did you know Unsafe Sex Now the #1 Risk Factor for Illness, Death In Young Women?)

5. Take all prescriptions exactly as prescribed. When you do get a bacterial illness, antibiotic medications can be lifesaving—but only if you use them correctly. Make sure you're following your doctor's orders precisely. The biggest rookie mistake? Not finishing a course of antibiotics because you feel better. Leaving any bad bugs in your bod allows them to adapt and become resistant to the drug so it won't work for you (and eventually anyone) again.

6. Eat drug-free meat. Over 80 percent of antibiotics go to livestock to help them grow bigger and faster, according to the WHO, and that's one of the leading causes of antibiotic resistance. The close quarters animals live in provide the ideal breeding ground for gene-swapping germs, and that drug resistance can be passed on to humans. So support local and organic farmers by purchasing only meat that wasn't raised with antibiotics.

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