We’ve previously talked about the prevailing opinion that supplying livestock with a constant supply of antibiotics to improve growth can have the unintended side effect of creating resistant bugs that can then be passed on to humans. But this is far from the only danger currently posed to the population by antibiotic-resistant superbugs. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have grown so concerned about one particular threat that they’re getting the word out now so that doctors can take the steps necessary to protect patients.
This particular danger is posed by a bacteria known as Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae. Carbapenems are basically a doctor’s last resort when all other antibiotic options fail to work. When even they fail, there’s very little recourse left to those hoping to prevent an infection from leading to the death of the patient, so one could see how this could be a very real threat. The CDC even estimates that half of all persons who get a CRE bloodstream infection could die.
The danger has burgeoned across the country in recent years, especially New England, which was home to one of the largest outbreaks ever recorded. The Bethesda, Maryland-based National Institutes of Health Clinical Center was the center of an outbreak two years ago which claimed the lives of 18 people. Across the country, 42 states have reported cases of a CRE infection, which is up dramatically from 2001, when just one state had reported an incident.
A total of 3.9% of all hospitals have reported a patient becoming infected with one of the more than 70 types of CRE out there. In most cases, the victim tends to be a patient who has checked into a facility which provides long term care (nursing homes, facilities which treat wounds). The risk is most apparent among people who have to have a ventilator or a catheter. In those instances, the bacteria is given the ability to travel further into a patient’s body than it normally would.
The CDC wants people to know that there are, however, steps that healthcare professionals can take to limit the risks to patients. Because a CRE can be transmitted from one patient to another by an attending doctor or nurse getting the bacteria on their hands and then seeing to another patient, it should come as no surprise that washing hands can go a long way toward cutting down on the threat. Antibiotic usage to treat lesser infections should be limited, and hospitals can dedicate wings, personnel, and equipment of the hospital to the exclusive treatment of CRE patients. A facility in Florida was able to reduce CRE incursion from 44% to 0% in such a way.