MRSA was the furthest thing from Natalie Silva’s mind. She was a vibrant 23-year-old in the prime of her life. On November 17, 2012, she put her life in the hands of the medical staff at Del Sol Medical Center, in El Paso, Texas for a scheduled c-section. The surgery seemed successful and she welcomed her second child into the world, a healthy baby boy. A few days later, her cesarean incision began gushing blood. In severe pain, she went back to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a contagious bacterial infection that is resistant to numerous antibiotics. Ten months later, after a harrowing battle and multiple surgeries, one of which left her paralyzed, Silva’s battered body could take no more and she died, leaving her devastated family to raise her two young children.
Silva, along with countless others, is a tragic victim of what many are calling nightmare superbugs, also known as antimicrobial resistant (AMR) infections: morbid bacterial infections that eat away at your body, sometimes over the course of months and/or years. They are resistant and even immune to traditional chemical antibiotic treatment and are spread predominantly through healthcare settings. For the last two decades, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and other health organizations have been warning the public of an impending superbug epidemic; the likes of which could send us straight back to the dark ages. But doctors and researchers gravely admit the epidemic is already here.
Superbug Statistics Are A Stab In The Dark
The CDC estimates 23,000 people a year in the U.S. die from antibiotic-resistant infections, like MRSA, and other nightmare superbugs. However, the CDC themselves admit this estimation is “a stab in the dark”. In a 2014 Rueter investigation, Michael Craig, the CDC’s senior adviser for antibiotic resistance coordination and strategy, said the agency, pressured by Congress and the media to produce “the big number” settled on “an impressionist painting rather than something that is much more technical.” The reason for such an elusory statistic is two-fold: hospitals often do not properly record MRSA and other antibacterial resistant infections on death certificates, and even when they do, there is no unified national system of tracking superbug infections. The majority of these infections, such as the gruesome, flesh-eating MRSA, are caught and spread in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and other health care settings, which (cue the irony) are the very ones profiting handsomely from the superbug crisis.
Hospitals Are Hiding The Truth
With the epidemic in full swing, the true severity of the superbug crisis is being hidden behind fudged death certificates, lack of a unified national tracking system, and lax regulations that go unenforced. Alarmingly, the Rueter’s investigation uncovered case after case of hospitals omitting antimicrobial resistant infections as a contributing cause of death. Instead, they listed causes such as cardiac arrhythmia, sepsis due to complications of premature birth, and delayed complications from craniocerebral injury. Silva’s family paid three thousand dollars for an autopsy to prove her death was caused by MRSA and to force doctors to include MRSA on her death certificate — they wanted to put cardiac arrest.
Jeanine Thomas, the founder of MRSA Survivors Network, has devoted her life’s work to raising the public awareness of MRSA and superbug epidemic issues and holding health care facilities accountable. Her activism is the result of her own terrifying experience with MRSA 16 years ago. “I did the first legislation in Illinois and in the U.S. to mandate MRSA screening and reporting. We tried to get universal but we couldn’t get it passed,” Thomas said. Her organization was successful in passing the first mandated screening and public reporting legislation in the U.S. “Now over 30 states have public reporting,” Thomas added. But hospitals know how to hustle the system. Thomas explained that in order to get around these mandates, hospitals are coding for sepsis, without mentioning the underlying reason — antimicrobial-resistant infections, like MRSA. “It looks like their infections rates are going down, but they are not,” says Thomas.
What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You
Additionally, health care facilities time and again has been shown to keep MRSA and other superbug outbreaks a secret for as long as possible, causing many people, from newborns to the elderly, to become gravely ill and even die unnecessarily. Such was the case for Josiah Cooper-Pope, a baby born 15 weeks premature at Chippenham Hospital in Richmond, Virginia, who contracted MRSA 10days after his birth. He was the fourth baby in the unit to come down with the infection. By the time the infection had run its course, records show it would sicken eight more babies — nearly every baby in the unit. It’s not as if hospitals have to try very hard to keep outbreaks under wraps since the United States currently has no nationwide system for reporting and tracking outbreaks. Rather each state has its own guidelines of how and when to report — guidelines which are haphazardly applied. When hospitals are found negligent, penalties, which can range from a fine of 1000 dollars up to jail time, are never enforced. Reuters investigation concludes: “An examination of cases across the country reveals a system that protects the healthcare facilities where superbugs thrive while leaving patients, their families and the broader public ignorant of potentially deadly threats.” It turns out, as long as superbug outbreaks can be kept super quiet, they are mighty good for business.
The Business Of Superbugs
“Eighty-five percent of MRSA is hospital-acquired,” Thomas states. “They [hospitals] make three and a half times more money if they infect people. That’s why they don’t want to screen, they don’t want to do precautions, they don’t want to spend a lot of money on housekeeping. It’s a money maker.” Superbugs are indeed a super business, as a 2013 Reuters investigation revealed.
In all, Rueter’s found the two infections MRSA and C. difficile (the most common) combined added about $6 billion in charges to hospital stays nationwide in 2013. MRSA infections added about $4.1 billion, and C. difficile added about $1.9 billion. While MRSA and C. difficile are two of the most common and well-known drug-resistant pathogens, they are only two of 18 superbugs the CDC considers to be a threat to public health, suggesting a total cost much higher than $6 billion. Some of those other infections, while not as widespread, can be far more costly to treat.
The Problem Is Not The Answer
Not only are health care facilities hiding outbreaks, breaking safety protocol, lying on death certificates, and making billions off of these nightmare infections, they sometimes are not even informing patients and families of the true nature of their infectious disease. Some patients and families are never even told exactly what they have. One patient’s family was told their father had contracted a “mysterious infection”, even though staff were well aware of the specific antibiotic-resistant bacteria (acinetobacter baumannii) that ravaged his body, as it had just killed seven people before it took his life as well. In Silva’s case, her healthcare providers told her she did not have to take any precautions to keep from spreading the disease to her newborn son, who ended up also contracting MRSA. Thankfully, he survived.
Misinformation can make it difficult for patients to understand their own disease and conduct research accordingly. Given the for-profit system of what Thomas refers to as “America’s medical factory”, alternative, holistic (i.e. natural and often unpatentable) therapy options are generally never brought up. Instead of investing in alternative treatments for antibiotic-resistant superbugs (many of which have shown amazing promise) like silver, much of the current research and treatment options are focused on using antibiotics to somehow solve the problem they have caused. Hmm…
One such study, which claims it’s results are “promising yet unintuitive” mixes three to six different-acting antibiotics in an antibiotic cocktail. A variation on this theme includes giving alternating doses of different-acting antibiotics. But as physicians resort to dumping multiple, heavy-duty antibiotics into their patient’s body as a last-ditch effort to save their lives, we can be sure it’s leading us even further into the pits of hell. This is because most chemical antibiotics wage war indiscriminately on our body’s microbiome, which includes both “good” bacteria (known as probiotics) and “bad” bacteria (known as pathogens). This bacterial obliteration leaves our gut vulnerable to serious infection and, according to recent studies, can even directly weaken our immune system. Another concern is the long term effects of antibiotics on our gut microbiome. New research is even linking antibiotic use in pregnancy and childhood to life long problems with obesity, asthma, and infection. Additionally, since bacteria can transfer gene information horizontally (from organism to organism) as well as vertically (parent to offspring), they evolve resistance remarkably fast. The antibiotics themselves are at the root of the superbug epidemic. As stated in this Time report, “It’s a problem of our our own making. Public health experts say that the superbugs are the result of years of overusing and misusing antibiotics.”
The Grisly Details
Like most victims of nightmare superbugs, Thomas’s story is horrifying. She describes it in full detail on her website, MRSA Support Network:
In December of, 2000, I became critically ill after being infected with MRSA during surgery to repair a broken ankle and had hardware put in. I was home two days after surgery and had terrible pain and went back to the ER and when they took off my cast, my foot and leg was hugely swollen and red, with blackened tissue around the incisions and large amounts of pus oozing out of the wounds. I was horrified and the pain was unbearable. I was admitted and the next six days were a blur of surgeries as the infection was necrotizing (eating) my flesh, and I lapsed in and out of consciousness. I was terrified that my leg was going to be amputated. The infection had entered into my bone marrow, giving me the disease osteomyelitis. I could no longer open my eyes, speak, or move. By the fourth day, I knew I was dying and was fighting as hard as I could, but could not communicate with anyone and the infection also had entered my bloodstream (sepsis).
In the middle of the fifth night, my temp went from 102 to 104.5 and I went into septic shock and multiple organ failure. The night nurses were able to bring me back and I finally was given the right antibiotic (vanco), which I should have been on from the start. It was a true miracle that I survived.
My ordeal was far from over and I spent several more weeks in the hospital and many more surgeries (a total of eight) to save my leg from amputation. The doctors wanted me to go to a rehab hospital for 4-6 weeks for more IV therapy. I had several more complications with a trip to the ER from a reaction to the antibiotics, and was diagnosed with C. diff, another dangerous superbug ,and I had to take more antibiotics. I spent another five months in bed enduring excruciating bone pain. There were days that I wished they had amputated my leg as I thought that would hurt less. I suffered from depression, anxiety and post- traumatic stress from the near-death experience and all of the surgeries.
A year later, I had the hardware removed and was laid up several more months. MRSA had weakened my immune system and I suffered for five years with secondary infections and MRSA moved into my sinuses. It that would last for months and keep me bedridden and on 4,000 mg of antibiotics a day.
To Trust Or Not To Trust
During this time, Thomas did her own research. “If I hadn’t healed, I’d be going to Russia,” she says, referring to a century-old intriguing cure for bacterial infections called bacteriophage therapy. Bacteriophage therapy is indeed a promising and even proven treatment for antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, as many studies and real life examples have shown. Yet it continues to be ignored by the western medical establishment and rejected by the FDA, as do many alternative, holistic remedies for bacterial infections, such as colloidal silver and melaleuca honey. Just don’t expect your doctor to tell you about them. As an active patient advocate, Thomas believes people are starting to wake up. “We realize that it’s about money and it’s about pushing services, different testing, over testing, too many surgeries … People are opening their eyes to that because it’s a for-profit factory system and there is not any checks and balances.”
Stand Up For Your Rights
“We try to put out information about getting a second opinion and do your own research, self-empowerment, bring an advocate with you. You have to make an informed decision yourself. It’s not just trusting your doctor. You never know what deal he may have with a device company or whatever. It’s not to say it’s all doctors, but it is out there. People must be aware of that and they really have to research things themselves,“ Thomas says.
Additionally, there are preventative measures a patient can take when scheduling routine procedures, such as calling your hospital before elected surgery and asking what their inpatient MRSA infection rate is for the previous year and what the infection rate is for surgical site infections. However, they may decide not to reveal this information.
Thomas believes there needs to be transparency and that nothing will change until we take out the “middle people” and enact a universal health care with a single-payer system. “This [type of] system will give you negotiated rights and transparency of what things are costing, so prices can go down. You hear all the crazy stories. Three thousand dollars a pill and even more. It’s ridiculous. Our system is broken and it needs to change, Thomas states.
The best course of action to avoid MRSA and other nasty superbug infections is to take control of your health NOW before you find yourself at the mercy of our for-profit health care system. To fight off antibacterial resistant infections, you have to have a healthy immune system. So skip chemical antibiotics to snuff out every sniffle and sneeze. Try natural remedies before rushing to the doctor. And eat well.
Over 70 percent of your immune system is in your gut and what you eat forms the foundation of your health. Eating fresh, organic fruits and vegetables in their natural state is an important part of letting “thy food be thy medicine”, to quote Hippocrates. Some of the best foods to boost your immune system are citrus fruits, broccoli, garlic, ginger, raw honey, raw almonds, spinach, papaya, kiwi, turmeric, and green tea.
With a reasonable diet in place, one of the very best preventative measures to avoiding superbug infections (and a scary trip to the hospital) is colloidal silver. Many use this natural antibacterial to treat other conditions such as the flu, tooth decay, and asthma.
Unlike pharmaceutical antibiotics, silver oxide doesn’t kill helpful probiotics along with the pathogens. According to researcher Gordon Pedersen, Ph.D., ND, “Silver has a remarkable ability to selectively destroy pathogenic bacteria while not causing harm to healthy probiotic bacteria.” Chelated silver disables the platform from which harmful bacteria grow, keeping them from multiplying. So these silver oxide ions safely kill pathogenic bacteria – while building your immune system.
Spread The Message, Not The Infection
Thomas never wanted anyone else to go through what she had which is why she has devoted her life’s work to stop these infections from happening and drawing attention to the epidemic. Her organization, MRSA Survivors Network is concentrating on raising more awareness for MRSA with educational programs on prevention to the healthcare industry and to the community. In January 2009, MRSA Survivors Network announced the creation of the inaugural World MRSA Day, Oct. 2nd and MRSA Awareness Month, October.
You can help solve the antibacterial resistant issue by sharing the message of the superbug epidemic, how hospitals are hiding the truth and how each person can take control of their own health. Share this story on your social media page and discuss it with your friends and family. Together, we can spread the message, not the infection.
Daisy Jean is a freelance writer who lives with her fabulously feral family deep in the woods on a little piece of land we call Serenity. Read about our off-grid extreme homesteading (mis)adventures on her blog.
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