The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently announced the rise of a dangerous superbug, which scientists are calling the “phantom menace.” The strains of this bug stem from a family of antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE).
Because of their resistance to antibiotics, infections can be very difficult to treat and the spread can be challenging to defend against. According to reports, infections can lead to death in up to 50 percent of patients. These statistics forced the CDC to release a statement about the CRE threat back in 2013, when the infection first began spreading. But, reports indicate that the spread has only increased among hospital patients.
Over the years, there has been a lot of focus on the common types of CRE threatening the public, but this new “phantom menace” has proven to be more challenging than others. Scientists have found that it is actually less antibiotic-resistant than other common types of CRE, but because it hasn’t been the center of tests by health officials, the true threats are still unknown.
What we do know is that CRE carries a plasmid, or mobile piece of DNA, with an enzyme that breaks down antibiotics. This bacteria is dangerous because of its ability to transfer that plasmid — and its corresponding antibiotic resistance — to normal bacteria present in our bodies. According to reports, there were 43 reported cases of CRE in the U.S. between June and August 2015, all with the potential to transfer their antibiotic invulnerability to other types of bacteria.
Researchers have found that this mutation is already threatening patients. Reports indicate that a new superbug gene discovered in China has been found in a person in Denmark. The gene makes the bacteria resistant to even what doctors consider the “last resort” antibiotic — treatment used when bacteria have shown resistance to everything else.
Most U.S. clinical laboratories that test for CRE organisms wouldn’t identify this particular type of bacteria because it’s not part of standard testing, but they warn that these mobile resistance genes can spread around the world quickly, silently riding in people, animals and food. Consequently, the CDC has recently changed its definition of the organism to help increase detection.
Officials agree that it is essential to fight these bacteria before a large-scale outbreak occurs. The best line of defense is to improve hand hygiene programs and encourage everyone who enters the hospital room to wash their hands.
Reports say that there is little chance that an effective drug to kill CRE bacteria will be produced in the coming years. Manufacturers have no new antibiotics in development that show promise, according to federal officials and industry experts, and there’s little financial incentive because the bacteria adapt quickly to resist new drugs.
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