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How Common Are Antibiotic-Resistant “Nightmare Bacteria”?

The CDC is recommending infection control measures to keep nightmare bacteria like Klebsiella from spreading resistance to the antibiotic carbapenem.

Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (DC) have found bacteria resistant to virtually every known antibiotic in samples from hospitals around the country (MMWR, April 3, 2018). These so-called “nightmare bacteria” were found as part of an effort to analyze samples and detect resistance.

Looking for Carbapenem-Resistant Bacteria:

The CDC hopes to develop strategies to contain the spread of bacteria that are not susceptible to carbapenem and its relatives, considered antibiotics of last resort. That is why it analyzed data from the National Healthcare Safety Network between 2006 and 2015. The analyses showed that the percentage of infections caused by carbapenem-resistant bacteria has dropped during this time, from 10.6% in 2007 to 3.1% in 2015. The agency credits especially strict infection control programs for this decline.

Keeping Bacteria from Spreading Resistance:

Not all the news from this report is encouraging, however. Eleven percent of healthy people who were screened carried superbugs resistant to carbapenem. As a result, these carriers could unwittingly spread their dangerous germs to people with lowered immunity and therefore greater susceptibility to hard-to-treat infections. Such illnesses kill as many as half of those who become infected.

One worry about antibiotic-resistant bacteria is that they can share their scary superpower with other bacteria. In fact, the CDC found that one in four samples had genes that could allow them to spread antibiotic resistance to other microorganisms. That is what makes these bugs nightmare bacteria for public health officials.

Controlling Nightmare Bacteria:

The CDC proposes a containment strategy including stringent infection control measures and rapid identification of antibiotic resistance. It will be up to hospitals to implement much more rigorous infection-control strategies. If properly implemented, such procedures could save lives.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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