Health care settings like hospitals and nursing homes need to make preparations to prevent the spread of a rare “superbug,” the CDC is warning. There’s recently been a sharp jump in the number of reports of the potentially deadly bacteria, which is resistant to all last-resort antibiotic treatments — and the CDC is prompting health officials to act now to contain a future outbreak of the superbug:
Reports of unusual forms of CRE have nearly doubled in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this month. Of 37 cases of rare forms of CRE, including the alarming NDM — New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase — 15 have been reported since last July.
“This increase highlights the need for U.S. health care providers to act aggressively to prevent the emergence and spread of these unusual CRE organisms,” the CDC said in a health advisory.
CREs are part of a family of drug-resistant germs that have shown up in growing numbers of U.S. health care settings. They’re named for their ability to elude carbapenem antibiotics, the big guns in the medical arsenal. They usually strike people who are already ill and require devices such as ventilators or catheters or who have been taking antibiotics for a long time. But they can infect any patient.
The CDC is calling for stricter precautions in health care settings, including increasing screening of patients and immediate isolation of patients who may be at risk for spreading the bacteria. “Our main objective is to slow or stop the spread in places where we can identify them,” Dr. Alex Kallen, an outbreak response coordinator for the CDC, told NBC News. “Right now, the therapeutic options are very limited.”
Health officials have been concerned about CRE superbugs for the past decade, particularly after an outbreak near Washington, DC killed seven people last summer. CRE infections are especially serious public health threats because they have a mortality rate of up to 40 percent, much higher than other infections — and people who are carrying the CRE bacteria may not display symptoms for up to a year, which means they could unknowingly pass the infection to countless people they come into contact with.
The CDC is attempting to raise public awareness about the superbug, as well as bring the issue to the forefront of health providers’ minds. But the CRE superbug may be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the rise of antibiotic-resistant diseases. As vaccine development has slowed over the last several decades — partly due to the fact that developing new antibiotics isn’t as profitable for Big Pharma — medical experts have begun to see a rise in drug-resistant bacteria, and warn that an impending “antibiotic apocalypse” could soon make even common infections deadly.