Unfortunately, this isn’t an article about all the Superheroes we learned about in Pixar’s The Incredibles. Instead, this is an overview of some of the biological “supers” we are faced with from day-to-day.
The common thread in each of these “supers” is they are increasingly resistant to what in the past has been a surefire way to get rid of them. It is no surprise that these “supers” are a concern to the public, but awareness is always a good place to start when facing the threat.
A superbug is one that is resistant to antibiotics. Certain bacteria adapt in order to be resistant against antibiotics because of a variety of reasons: antibiotics have frequently been overprescribed. Patients don’t take their antibiotics correctly, or don’t finish their prescribed cycle. And, of course, there is just the spontaneous adaptation that is a part of nature.
A good example of this is Staphylococcus aureus or “staph” infection. Antibiotics used to be considered the “miracle drug” against staph infection. Now, it has become increasingly difficult to cure, due to its rapid adaptation.
All is not lost, however. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is developing strategies to combat superbugs, some strategies of which are in the control of patients.
A key component to slowing down the resistance of bacteria is to make absolutely sure you finish your antibiotic cycle, regardless of if you start to feel better before all your medicine is gone. Another is to avoid pressuring doctors to give you antibiotics. Overprescribing has been one of the biggest triggers for adaptation. So, if you don’t need antibiotics don’t take them.
Like superbugs, super weeds or herbicide-resistant weeds, are a result of overuse of herbicides, and natural adaptation.
Monsanto’s Roundup—and its generic counterpart, glyphosate—was designed, like antibiotics, to be the miracle weed killer. And at first, it was. However, with more use comes more resistance. That is simply how the survival of the fittest and adaptation work. But with more resistance more and more farmers have resorted to using more and more chemicals, which only perpetuates the cycle.
One of the simplest and most effective course of action to undermine this cycle is to practice crop rotation. Instead of planting the same crop year after year after year, farmers should plant, for example, corn one year and peas the next. Besides inhibiting the growth of super weeds that favor a certain crop, crop rotation deposits more nutrients into the soil and decreases erosion.
For years people have been using pesticides to get rid of lice. This pesticide—pyrethroid—is common in treatments such as Nix, Rid, and even prescription remedies. However, like superbugs and super weeds it’s the same story: more use of the agent that kills it means more resistance and adaptation.
Modern lice have developed tougher exoskeletons as well as different hatching cycles that make it harder for the chemical-based treatments to work.
Combating lice infestations is not futile, however. New technology used by lice treatment centers such as Nit Not is 99.2% effective against lice, without the use of chemicals. AirAllé uses heat and air to dry out lice and eggs, which can then be removed with a lice comb.
The “supers” we encounter from day-to-day might be a force to be reckoned with. But as formidable as they may seem, they are not without weaknesses.
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Tamsen Maloy is a writer, reader, and traveler. She writes about arts and entertainment, travel, and politics.