Antibiotic-Resistant ‘Nightmare Bacteria’ Confirmed in 27 States, CDC Says

  • The antibiotic-resistant germs are “virtually untreatable with modern medicine” and can “spread like wildfire”.
  • Each year, 23,000 Americans die from antibiotic-resistant germs.
  • Of the germs tested by the CDC, 25 percent have special genes that allow them to spread their resistance to other germs.

Cases of an antibiotic-resistant family of germs known as “nightmare bacteria” are on the rise and have been confirmed in 27 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

CDC Principal Deputy Director Dr. Anne Schuchat told reporters Tuesday that 221 cases of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) were reported in 2017 in 27 states, noting that this family of bacteria along with other antibiotic-resistant germs are “virtually untreatable with modern medicine” and can “spread like wildfire”.

“Antibiotic resistance is concerning because it means that bacteria are able to circumvent the effects of drugs designed to kill them,” Dr. Maroya Walters, head of the antimicrobial resistance team and the CDC’s Prevention and Response Branch, told weather.com. “The ‘nightmare bacteria’ described in the study are particularly alarming because they are resistant to many or most antibiotics, making infections with these bacteria difficult or impossible to treat.”

Even more concerning, perhaps, is the fact that antibiotic-resistant germs can spread from people whether they are displaying symptoms of infection or not, which means the germs can spread undetected, the CDC says in its study. In fact, 11 percent of screening tests confirmed the presence of the resistant germs in people with no symptoms.

The resistant bugs also spread between hospitals and health care facilities and of the germs tested by the CDC, 25 percent have special genes that allow them to spread their resistance to other germs.

Each year, about 2 million Americans become sick from antibiotic-resistant germs and 23,000 die. The CDC notes that one study says up to 50 percent of people infected with CRE will die from the bacteria.

“Most of these highly resistant bacteria are identified in patients with lots of health care exposures, like hospitalization or surgery, so the risk to healthy people is low,” Walters told weather.com. “It is possible, however, that over time these resistant bacteria could spread beyond health care facilities.”

In the study, the agency took a look at ways to prevent the further spread of these terrifying “superbugs” and found that “early and aggressive action—when even a single case is found—can keep germs with unusual resistance from spreading in health care facilities and causing hard-to-treat or even untreatable infections.”

The CDC says this aggressive course of action coordinated between state and local government officials, doctors and health care facilities could prevent up to 1,600 cases of CRE in one state over a period of three years.

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To prevent the spread of superbugs, the CDC says health care providers should identify resistant germs rapidly and use infection control measures such as hospital gloves, gowns and more stringent cleaning in the rooms of infected patients. They also recommend testing patients without symptoms who may carry and spread the germs.

The agency says individuals should get the recommended vaccines and inform their health care provider if they recently received health care in another country or facility.

“Nightmare bacteria are more common at health care facilities in many other countries than they are in the United States,” Walters said. “If you are admitted to a healthcare facility and have been recently hospitalized outside the country, let your provider know. They can take precautions to ensure that if you are carrying resistant bacteria, the germs do not spread to other patients.”

Good personal hygiene, including washing your hands frequently and keeping cuts clean until they heal, are other preventative measures that can keep you, your family and your community safe.

“Antibiotics are life-saving drugs, but taking antibiotics when they are not indicated, or not following your doctor’s instructions for taking antibiotics, can increase your risk of acquiring resistant germs,” Walters warns. “You should ask your doctor when an antibiotic is the right treatment for your illness and always take antibiotics exactly as your doctor instructs.”

By Pam Wright