CHARLOTTE, NC — Antibiotic-resistant "nightmare bacteria" infections were found more than 220 times last year in 27 states, including North Carolina, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week. The bacteria are known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, and can cause pneumonia as well as infections of the bloodstream and urinary tract. Health officials say an alarming 50 percent of those infected with CRE typically die.
There were at least three patients in North Carolina with CRE in 2017, according to state public health officials. But antibiotic-resistant infections are more widespread than just those attributed to CRE. About two million Americans get infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year and 23,000 die, according to Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The infections are most prevalent in patients in hospitals and nursing homes who use IVs or other tubes that can become infected, according to the study.
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In about 11 percent of cases, people in close contact with patients also sometimes carried the superbugs even though they weren’t sick, creating the risk of further spreading the bacteria.
A CDC study found that the antibiotic resistant germs can "spread like wildfire" and result in infections that are impossible to treat. Some infected patients had traveled to other countries where drug-resistant germs are more common for surgery or treatment, according to ABC.
Germs with unusual resistance include those that cannot be killed by all or most antibiotics; are uncommon in the U.S. or in a geographical area; or have specific genes that allow them to spread their resistance to other germs, according to the CDC.
A CDC containment strategy to stop the spread of "nightmare bacteria" calls for rapid identification, infection control assessments, testing patients without symptoms who may carry and spread the germ and continued infection control assessments until spread is stopped.
Health departments using the approach have conducted infection control assessments and colonization screenings within 48 hours of finding unusual resistance and have reported no further transmission during follow-up over several weeks.
"It’s reassuring to see that state and local experts, using our containment strategy, identified and stopped these resistant bacteria before they had the opportunity to spread," Schuchat said.
In addition to North Carolina, the CDC study found "nightmare bacteria" infections in 26 other states including Virginia, New York, Maryland, Connecticut, Illinois, Florida, Texas, California, Washington and Alabama.
How can the public help stem the spread of nightmare bacteria? The CDC offers these suggestions:
Inform your doctors if you recently had health care in another country. Wash your hands regularly and keep cuts clean until healed. Talk about infection prevention with health care professionals and get vaccinated.
— By Patch editors Shannon Antinori and Elizabeth Janney
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