The death of an elderly Nevada woman from a bacteria resistant to all antibiotics made headlines last week, but doctors worry that this new “superbug” has the capacity to spread even more quickly than they originally thought. 

Earlier this week, Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer for England, shared her fears that antibiotic resistance might create a huge problem with routine operations, making them risky to even consider performing should the patient develop an infection.

Doctors recently observed some of these strains related to the superbug that killed the aforementioned Nevada woman and found that several of them are heavily prevalent in hospitals.

They detailed their findings in a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

During the new study, doctors from Harvard University and Emory University examined carbapenem resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) in four different US hospitals and found that the family of the bug is a lot larger than they ever expected.

A CRE is resistant to multiple strains of antibiotics and typically forces a doctor to use a last-ditch effort drug to cure the patient.

However, in the case of the elderly Nevada woman, even that couldn’t save her.

William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard Chan School, stated:

“While the typical focus has been on treating sick patients with CRE-related infections, our new findings suggest that CRE is spreading beyond the obvious cases of disease. We need to look harder for this unobserved transmission within our communities and healthcare facilities if we want to stamp it out.”

Hanage says that current tests for CRE infections are not always adequate, as they may miss less obvious strains of the disease.

This could lead to potential fatalities in the future, in addition to allowing it to spread from patient to patient unchecked.

Although the news of the drug resistant superbug has certainly been alarming, Hanage put it in context with the following quote:

“We often talk about the rising tide of antibiotic resistance in apocalyptic terms. But we should always remember that the people who are most at risk of these things would be at risk for any infection, because they are often among the frailer people in the health care system.”

 


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