Officials: Superbug increase 'major threat' in hospitals

2013-03-06T00:00:00Z Officials: Superbug increase 'major threat' in hospitalsThe Associated Press The Associated Press
March 06, 2013 12:00 am  • 

NEW YORK - Health officials are reporting an alarming increase in some dangerous superbugs at U.S. hospitals.

These superbugs from a common germ family have become extremely resistant to treatment with antibiotics. Only 10 years ago, such resistance was hardly ever seen in this group.

Infections from the superbugs are still uncommon. But in the first six months of last year, nearly 200 U.S. hospitals - about 4 percent - saw at least one case, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent reported Tuesday.

"I would call them a major threat emerging in our hospitals," said Dr. Arjun Srinivasan, an infectious disease expert at the CDC.

Health officials call them "nightmare bacteria" that have now been seen in 42 states and threaten to spread their resistance to more and more of their bacterial brethren.

"We only have a limited window of opportunity to stop spread" of these superbugs, said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden. At a press conference Tuesday, he said he was "sounding an alarm."

The report did not include better-known superbugs like the staph infection MRSA or the intestinal bug known as C-diff, which have plagued hospitals.

It focused on the superbugs that have emerged from one specific bacteria group. At least five of the 70 kinds in that family have developed resistance to a class of antibiotic called carbapenems - considered one of the last lines of defense against hard-to-treat bugs.

Some of those bacteria seem to have terrifying potential. Among them: Klebsiella pneumoniae, a bug that killed at least seven patients at a federal research hospital in Bethesda, Md.; and those made resistant by a gene called NDM-1, named for New Delhi.

The bacteria usually live harmlessly in the gut but can cause pneumonia, and urinary tract and bloodstream infections if they get into other parts of the bodies of patients with weakened immune systems. As many as half the patients who get the bloodstream infections die, Srinivasan said.

CDC did not provide figures on deaths attributed to these superbugs.

In 2001, U.S. hospitals reported that 1 percent of samples from the bacterial family were resistant to the antibiotic carbapenems. By 2011, it had risen to 4 percent.

On StarNet: Find more science, technology and health stories at azstarnet.com/news/science

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