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Hard to treat infections on the rise in U.S.

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Superbug infections on rise in U.S.

Hospitals in the U.S. are seeing an increase in hard-to-treat infections from a rare, but deadly superbug, according to a report released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which analyzed data from about 3,900 U.S. hospitals in the first six months of 2012.

The data shows about four percent of acute-care hospitals, and 18 percent of long-term acute care hospitals in America, reported at least one case of dangerous CRE bacteria, or Carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae, which are germs that are resistant to most last-resort antibiotics.

"CRE are nightmare bacteria," CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden told reporters.

Statistics might indicate that CRE are still rare, but analysis from three different data pools revealed a significant rise in the infections during the past decade. The percentage of certain bacteria reported to be resistant to carbapenem antibiotics increased from 1.2 percent in 2001 to 4.2 percent in 2011, which is a spike of around 250 percent.

“The message that we’re trying to send is there’s an opportunity here,” said Dr. Arjun Srinivasan, associate director for the CDC’s healthcare-associated prevention programs. “It’s an uncommon issue, but it’s concerning. There’s an opportunity to act while it’s still uncommon.”

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CRE infections increased most for Klebsiella pneumoniae, which rose 550 percent between 2001 and 2011, and made headlines last summer after reports that the bug swept through the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center near Washington, D.C. – killing seven people, including a 16-year-old boy.

The CDC reports that CRE infections linked to Klebsiella have been detected in 42 states in the U.S. states, as well as in Puerto Rico. The biggest concern about these infections are that they spread rapidly through a hospital and can have a mortality rate of up to 50 percent.

The CDC says health care providers should be alert for evidence of CRE in their facilities, and act promptly to detect and contain the bug. Patients exposed to the bug should be kept together and away from others. Hospital staff should be attentive in making sure proper hand hygiene is practiced and keeping patients from being exposed to potentially contaminated materials.

Some states have better systems than others for catching CREs, such as Colorado and Florida, both of which have had outbreaks and had to deal with the problem of stopping them. “The actions right now are uneven,” Srinivasan said.

Meanwhile, Srinivasan says that there are certain precautions patients can take if they’re concerned about catching a CRE infection. Risk may be higher in people who are hospitalized frequently or who are transferred from one type of hospital to another. For example, a patient who has a stroke may be treated at an acute-care hospital, but then transferred for longer-term critical care at another site.

Srinivasan also advises patients or family members to ask about the risk of CRE, especially if the patient requires ventilators or catheters or otherwise show signs of infection like a fever. Also, ask the hospital staff what precautions they take to prevent hospital-acquired infections, he said.

SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention