GEORGIA — Antibiotic-resistant “nightmare bacteria” infections were found more than 220 times last year in 27 states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week. The bacteria are known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, and can cause pneumonia as well as infections of the bloodstream and urinary tract. Health officials say an alarming 50 percent of those infected with CRE typically die.
Antibiotic-resistant infections are more widespread than just those attributed to CRE. About two million Americans get infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year and 23,000 die, according to Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A CDC study found that the antibiotic resistant germs can “spread like wildfire” and result in infections that are impossible to treat.
The infections are most prevalent in patients in hospitals and nursing homes who use IVs or other tubes that can become infected, according to the study.
In about 11 percent of cases, people in close contact with patients also sometimes carried the superbugs even though they weren’t sick, creating the risk of further spreading the bacteria.
Some infected patients had traveled for surgery or treatment to other countries where drug-resistant germs are more common, according to ABC.
Germs with unusual resistance include those that cannot be killed by all or most antibiotics; are uncommon in the U.S. or in a geographical area; or have specific genes that allow them to spread their resistance to other germs, according to the CDC.
The newly released CDC study found “nightmare bacteria” infections in 27 states including New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Florida, Texas, California, Washington and Alabama. The list did not include Georgia, where researchers been studying the issue.
The Georgia Department of Public Health conducts surveillance to track antibiotic-resistant threats through the Emerging Infections Program, a partnership with nine other states and organizations including Emory University and the Atlanta VA.
Some studies by Emory University and the Georgia Department of Health have focused on the bacterium C. difficile, which can cause deadly diarrhea. It is associated with people who have been taking antibiotics for a long period of time, the National Institutes of Health reports.
Epidemiologists in Georgia have also been tracking Salmonella, Listeria, E. Coli and other bacteria associated with food; using funding from the CDC, they are identifying outbreaks and monitoring for resistance.
Health officials have been studying animals, water and soil to find factors that contribute to resistance as well.
“Antimicrobial resistance is one of the biggest problems we face this century,” according to Dr. Susan Sanchez, assistant director of the Biomedical Health Science Institute at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine. She was reportedly one of the first to discover MRSA infections that were treatment-resistant in horses and dogs and warns the issue of drug-resistant germs touches both people and animals.
“Bacterial infections that are treatable today may kill people and their pets in the not-so-distant future if more antibiotics are not developed or we don’t find a way to stop the spread of resistance,” Sanchez said.
A CDC containment strategy to stop the spread of “nightmare bacteria” calls for rapid identification, infection control assessments, testing patients without symptoms who may carry and spread the germ and continued infection control assessments until spread is stopped. Health departments using the approach have conducted infection control assessments and colonization screenings within 48 hours of finding unusual resistance and have reported no further transmission during follow-up over several weeks.
“It’s reassuring to see that state and local experts, using our containment strategy, identified and stopped these resistant bacteria before they had the opportunity to spread,” Schuchat said.
How can the public help stem the spread of nightmare bacteria? The CDC offers these suggestions:
Inform your doctors if you recently had health care in another country.Wash your hands regularly and keep cuts clean until healed.Talk about infection prevention with health care professionals and get vaccinated.
— By Patch editors Shannon Antinori and Elizabeth Janney
Image via Shutterstock.