Nightmare Bacteria Spreading Across U.S.; Superbug is ‘Triple Threat’ Says CDC Official

By iScienceTimes Staff on March 6, 2013 10:59 AM EST

CRE Superbug
Antibiotic resistant bacteria ia growing threat in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control. (Photo: Nature/Everett Kane)

Nightmare bacteria that have developed resistances to even the strongest antibiotics are spreading across the U.S., with the number of cases increasing 400 percent over the last decade.

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Over the past decade more and more hospitalized patients have been incurably infected with the bug, Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), the nightmare bacteria which kills up to half of patients who get bloodstream infections from them, according to a new CDC report. There are many forms of CRE, but of the 37 forms reported in the U.S., 15 have been reported in less than a year. The CDC said the increase in CRE means health care providers need to be vigilant in recognizing and treating the CRE super-bug.

"(CRE) are a serious threat to public health. Infections with CRE are difficult to treat and have been associated with mortality rates as high as 40-50 percent. Due to the movement of patients throughout the health care system, if CRE are a problem in one facility, then typically they are a problem in other facilities in the region as well," the CDC said on its website.

Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a news conference that the nightmare bacteria represents a "triple threat" for hospitals and patients. First, the bacteria are resistant to all, or nearly all,,antibiotics, even those of last resort, he said. Second, they kill up to half of patients who get bloodstream infections from them. And third, the bacteria can transfer their antibiotic resistance to other bacteria within the family, potentially making other bacteria untreatable, as well.

The nightmare bacteria is so dangerous that the CDC has put together a toolkit for hospitals to help them deal with the threat. Adding to the threat posed by the nightmare bacteria is a recent study in the American Journal of Infection Control that revealed the bacteria can survive in the body for over a year. The study was conducted by the Saare Zedek Medical Center where the research team analyzed follow up tests from 97 CRE-positive patients.

"The average time until cultures became negative was 387 days. At three months, 78 percent of patients remained culture positive; at six months, 65 percent remained positive; at nine months, 51 percent, and at one year 39 percent of patients remained positive, meaning they could potentially become re-infected or transmit the germ to others," researchers wrote in the study.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Brad Spellberg, of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, told NPR the nightmare bacteria is like the iceburg that hit the Titanic. "We're not talking about an iceberg that's down the line," he said. "The ship has hit the iceberg. We're taking on water. We already have people dying. Not only of CRE, but of untreatable CRE."

Officials say that while the number of cases involving the nightmare bacteria are on the rise they are still relatively low in terms of actual numbers. Their main goal is to make hospitals aware of the nightmare bacteria so that hospital staff can adequately diagnose and treat patients with the disease.

"The basic steps are finding patients with CRE and making sure they are isolated so that they don't spread it to others," Frieden said. "And the good news about this is that it still hasn't spread so widely that we can't stop it."

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