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article image'Nightmare bacteria' cases rise five-fold in Southeastern U.S.

By Greta McClain     Jul 29, 2014 in Health
Durham - A recently released study shows the number of cases involving a deadly antibacterial "superbug" has risen five-fold in some parts of the United States over the past four years.
Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, also known simply as CRE, is a group of different bacteria which have high levels of resistance to antibiotics. Enterobacteriaceae are a normal part of the gut flora found in the intestines, although some forms of the bacteria can also be found in water or soil. The majority of Enterobacteriaceae bacteria are beneficial or harmless, although some species such Salmonella and Escherichia coli (E. coli) can cause serious health issues. Carbapenems, commonly referred to as the "drugs of last resort," are a class of antibiotics developed specifically to address the rising number of antibacterial resistant bacteria, also called "superbugs." CRE, as evidenced by its name, is a bacteria which is even resistant to the “state of the art” carbapenem antibiotics.
During a March 2013 press conference Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said:
"It's not often that our scientists come to me to say that we have a very serious problem, and we need to sound an alarm. But that's exactly what we're doing today."
He went on to call CRE a "nightmare bacteria," pointing to studies in which as many as 50 percent of patients infected with CRE died from the illness. Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for the United Kingdom, called CRE a "catastrophic threat" which, at its current rate of growth, could result in the death of those undergoing even minor surgeries withing the next 20 years. Davies continued by saying:
"This is a growing problem, and if we don't get it right, we will find ourselves in a health system not dissimilar from the early 19th century."
The World Health Organization identified CRE as one of the three greatest threats to human health.
In 2013 the CDC also announced that healthcare institutions in 42 U.S. states had reported at least once case of CRE. What was more alarming was the fact that the number of CRE cases had risen at least four-fold over 10 years.
Chart showing rise of CRE cases since 2008
Chart showing rise of CRE cases since 2008
The University of Chicago Press
According to a study released last month in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, the rate at which CRE is spreading has continue to surge upwards, with the number of CRE cases rising five-fold between 2008 and 2012.
The report is based on data provided by the Duke Infection Control Outreach Network, which includes 25 community hospitals in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia. Of the 25 hospitals, 16 reported cases of CRE, involving a total of 305 patients. In 59 percent of the cases, patients had identifiable infections, while 41 percent of patients were carrying the bacteria asymptomatically. The study also showed that 94 percent of all cases were healthcare associated, meaning patients diagnoses with CRE were infected while in a healthcare setting.
Although the numbers may seem small, the rate at which CRE is spreading is of definite concern. At the current rate of growth, the number of CRE cases reported by these same hospitals could conceivably go from 305 cases to 1525 cases by 2016. Dr. Joshua Thaden, lead author of the study, told Science Daily:
"A CRE epidemic is fast approaching. We must take immediate and significant action in order to limit the transmission of these dangerous pathogens throughout our hospitals and acute care facilities."
More about CRE, Bacteria, Antibioticresistant bacteria, Health
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