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YOUR HEALTH: COVID's frightening impact on 'superbugs'

Antibiotic-resistant superbugs that cause pneumonia and sepsis in COVID patients are intensifying the pandemic crisis

HOUSTON — The COVID-19 virus is having an impact on so-called "superbugs", antibiotic-resistant germs.

Overusing some medicines, and even certain ingredients in hand sanitizers, has become a huge area of concern in the medical community. 

"Most of those really strong antibiotic-resistant bugs are opportunistic and what that means is they're looking for the opportunity to cause disease when the host is in some kind of weakened state," explained Rice University microbiologist Karl Klose.

The host being the thousands of hospital patients fighting coronavirus. 

Now, it's combining with antibiotic-resistant bacteria to make people even sicker.

"You pick up these bugs in the hospital, you end up getting a secondary infection because you're not as able fight off disease anymore, and then there's no antibiotics that can treat you," warned Klose.

That powerful one-two punch of virus and bacteria sometimes cannot be stopped because many antibiotics simply don't work anymore, rendering them useless in knocking out secondary infections. 

After years of doctors overprescribing antibiotics, and studies warning against overusing hand sanitizers, the drugs no longer work as well against superbugs, or secondary infections in corona patients. 

Check your hand sanitizer for an ingredient called triclosan, which can increase superbugs  It's banned in the United States but has recently turned up in sanitizers and hand soap sold online.

And the problem could get worse.

"This study addresses a growing concern, the emergence of multidrug resistant bacteria known as superbugs," said Pedro Alvarez, director of the Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology-Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT) Center. 

"They are projected to cause 10 million annual deaths by 2050."

That's why doctors are working on this super-tolerance to superbugs. 

Rice University, for example, is researching something called "nano drills" that pierce the outside shell of bacteria and deliver drugs right to the source.

"It's very selective and they die by exploding," said Jim Tour, a Rice University Synthetic Organic Chemist . 

"You punch holes in them and then the cells just bleb... boom."

And there are other methods to kill bacteria, such as ultraviolet, or U-V light. 

Scientists have some cautionary advice.

"Use them in a better way, so that we don't induce antibiotic resistance to all bacteria that we come into contact with," Klose said.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.