The CDC is sounding the alarm about a potentially deadly superbug, carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), on the rise in hospitals around the country. After a recent uptick in the recorded cases of the drug-resistant bug, federal health officials released a report urging medical professionals to do their best to prevent CRE from spreading further — but this week, the CDC is upping the ante, warning that the “nightmare bacteria” represents one of the biggest threats to patient safety in our nation’s hospitals.
CRE bacteria are resistant to even last-resort forms of antibiotics. Even though they remain relatively rare, health officials are worried about the dramatic spike over the last decade. The national percentage of CRE cases jumped from 1.2 percent in 2001 to 4.2 percent in 2011 — an increase of about 250 percent. The CDC is warning that, if the medical industry doesn’t find a way to contain the spread of the superbug, it will eventually make its way outside of hospital settings and into the broader community:
“These are nightmare bacteria that present a triple threat,” said Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “They’re resistant to nearly all antibiotics. They have high mortality rates, killing half of people with serious infections. And they can spread their resistance to other bacteria.”
So far, this particular class of superbug, called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, has been found only in hospitals or nursing homes, rather than in the community, Frieden said. But officials sounded the alarm partly because, if the bacteria’s spread isn’t contained soon, even common infections could become untreatable. [...]
These superbugs are “the biggest threat to patient safety in the hospital that we have,” said Costi Sifri, an infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at the University of Virginia Health System. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like anything is slowing their spread.”
People with compromised immune systems, who are either hospitalized for a long time or living in a nursing time, are most at risk for contracting the superbug. About 4 percent of hospitals in the U.S. have had at least one patient with CRE, and that figure rises to 18 percent for long-term, acute-care hospitals — although the CDC points out those numbers could actually be underestimations. There’s no reliable national data on the bacteria because the overwhelming majority of states don’t require hospitals to report any information on their CRE cases, and there’s no federal reporting requirement either.
Even though CRE cases remain rare, the threat of drug-resistant antibiotics is a serious issue with potentially disastrous implications. The CDC’s Friedan pointed out that one of the most troubling things about CRE bugs is the fact that they can transfer their antibiotic resistance to other bacteria — hastening the rise of antibiotic-resistant diseases, which is already a growing global health issue, even further.