‘Nightmare Bacteria’ Kills Up To Half Of Infected Patients

Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria enterobacteriaceae

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More and more patients are suffering from infections caused by bacteria that are resistant to all (or nearly all) anti-bacterial medications, a new report from the CDC shows. Since anti-bacterial drugs were first developed, the bacteria that cause disease in humans have been building a resistance to them. 

As these antibiotic-resistant germs become more widespread, doctors have had to resort to what they call our “last-resort” antibiotics — specifically a type known as Carbapenems.

When bacteria become resistant to these drugs, doctors are left with no other options for treatment. One group of bacteria that cause human disease and have developed this resistance are the are the Enterobacteriaceae, which include bacteria like E. coli and Klebsiella.

As a group they are called the Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CREs.

Director of the CDC Thomas R. Frieden called CREs a “nightmare bacteria” during a telephone news conference on March 5.

Bacteria are all around and all over us, but most of them are harmless. In the intestines, these enterobacteriaceae bacteria are normal and healthy, but when they infect other sites on the body — like the bladder or blood — they can cause disease.

The CRE (resistant bacteria) are even more dangerous because they aren’t killed by normal anti-bacterial drugs. They can also spread this ability to other bacteria, making them immune to anti-bacterial drugs as well.

dpk vs hai JDG 1203cc bacteria antibacterial resistant petri dish scientist lab
CDC staff show two plates growing bacteria in the presence of discs containing various antibiotics. The isolate on the left plate is susceptible to the antibiotics on the discs and is therefore unable to grow around the discs. The one on the right has a CRE that is resistant to all of the antibiotics tested and is able to grow near the disks.

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They are also lethal: Half of patients who get a bloodstream infection with these bacteria die. These resistant bugs are found in hospitals, where patients usually already have weakened immune systems.The bacteria are transferred from person to person through contact — usually on the hands of health care workers. They are becoming more and more common. According to the CDC, “they have increased from 1 per cent to 4 per cent in the past decade. One type of CRE has increased from 2 per cent to 10 per cent”

They’ve been found in 42 states. During a six-month period of 2012, 4 per cent of hospitals and 18 per cent of long term care centres in the U.S. reported CRE infections.

There are also new strains popping up recently, the CDC said: “Of the 37 unusual forms of CRE that have been reported in the United States, the last 15 have been reported since July, 2012.”

An outbreak of CRE at a long-term care hospital in Florida infected 44 per cent of patients and lasted a year before it was stopped. In a press conference, CDC officials said that the problem is common in hospitals in New York City and other areas of the Northeast as well.

The CDC recommends that nurses, doctors and other health care professionals take precautions, like washing their hands more frequently and removing things like IVs and catheters as quickly as possible.

“We have seen in outbreak after outbreak that when facilities and regions follow CDC’s prevention guidelines, CRE can be controlled and even stopped,” said Michael Bell, M.D., acting director of CDC’s Division of Health care Quality Promotion, said in a press release. “As trusted health care providers, it is our responsibility to prevent further spread of these deadly bacteria.”