A newly discovered family of superbugs has become a growing and deadly threat to patients and health-care workers. Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) is a group of gut bacteria that resists even the strongest antibiotics. Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, refers to CRE as a “nightmare bacteria,” which can kill up to half of patients who get bloodstream infections.
According to a new CDC report, the proportion of hospital and nursing home infections has nearly quadrupled in the last 10 years and is only rising. A strain of CRE made the news when it killed seven hospital patients in 2011.
CRE belongs to a family of bacteria that includes commonly known strains such as E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae. While these bacteria usually reside harmlessly in the gut, they can spread to the lungs, bladder or blood stream, causing sometimes nearly untreatable cases of pneumonia, urinary tract infections or sepsis respectively.
To prevent further spread of CRE, the CDC has released a CRE prevention toolkit for hospitals and nursing homes. The CDC is urging hospitals to test for CRE and “keep patients with the infection in specialized wards with dedicated staff.” Populations who are particularly at risk – children, the elderly and the immunosuppressed – should be monitored, as they are most susceptible to infection.
“Handwashing among hospital staff is particularly important,” Friedan said. “Thus far, the problem has not been seen outside of medical facilities, and it’s important we keep it that way.”
Antibiotic resistance is a problem that physicians have encountered since antibiotics became available and bacteria began to develop multiple ways to resist antibiotics and survive.
To help combat this problem, many experts are also recommending new, cutting-edge infection therapies that limit the chance for the bacteria to develop resistance. Dr. Brad Spellberg and his team from the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute gave The New England Journal of Medicine a few suggestions that are currently in development. One modern advance, the infusion of monoclonal antibodies, would help the body’s white blood cells attack bacteria more effectively without antibiotics.
Dr. Spellberg’s team also suggested experimental treatments that don’t kill the offending bacteria – but prevent its growth. One treatment in particular involves using probiotic bacteria, which would compete for space and nutrients in the gut. Another treatment, a new type of antibiotic, would not kill or directly attack offending bacteria but would block the synthesis of a type of lipopolysaccharide, which would prevent the bacteria from growing.
Until new treatments like this are fully researched and approved, stay aware of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, like CRE. Keep in mind that irresponsible use of antibiotics does nothing but hasten the development of new dangerously resistant strains of bacteria. Understand that antibiotics are not for every ailment, especially virally-caused conditions; question your doctor if you really need antibiotics before you’re given them. If prescribed antibiotics, ask you physician if it’s okay for you to stop taking them if you’re feeling better.