'Superbug' CRE Sweeps Through US Hospitals

Ebola isn’t the infectious disease you should be worried about. The antibiotic-resistant "superbug" carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) continues to spread with deadly consequences, a recent study shows.

Dr. Joshua Thaden, a fellow in the division of infectious diseases at the Duke University School of Medicine, released a new study in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology showing that superbugs are on the rise in hospitals across the southeastern U.S., and could threaten other facilities throughout the country.

He said hospitals routinely screen for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a common drug-resistant bacteria. CRE is similar, and can cause blood, urinary tract, and lung infections. Thaden’s study found that CRE infections rose 500 percent in 25 community hospitals between 2008 and 2012. As doctors and hospitals continue to overprescribe antibiotics, drug-resistant bacteria like MRSA and CRE are becoming more common.

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Thaden's study found that there were 0.26 CRE infections for every 100,000 hospital patient days in 2008. That number grew more than five-fold to 1.4 by 2012. That may seem like a low number, but CRE is deadly in about half of all cases.

Spotting CRE Infections

Health care facilities do not always screen patients for CRE, unlike MRSA.

“When we detect [MRSA] we make sure we take specific precautions to prevent this from being transmitted to another person. We don’t do that for things like CRE. Perhaps we need to start,” Thaden told NPR's Here and Now.

And CRE isn’t the only superbug that has been showing up more and more often in hospitals, Thaden said. He added that other superbugs, such as vancomycin-resistant EnterococcusAcinetobacter baumannii, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, are also on the rise.

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Treating Superbugs

There are no antibiotics to treat CRE, which is known as a gram-negative bacterium. Gram-negatives are especially tough to combat. Thaden said an effective CRE treatment could be years away.

In addition to coming up with better antibiotics, Thaden said boosting infection control practices can help. Actively screening patients, which can be done using a simple swab test, is one way to monitor superbugs. Regularly washing your hands and wearing protective clothing near patients with superbug infections is also vital to stop the spread of the bacteria.

Careful antibiotic prescribing can also help prevent the spread of infections, Thaden said.

“We need to do a better job of prescribing antibiotics in an intelligent way, since use of antibiotics is what drives antibiotic resistance,” he said. “We need to make sure that we're not prescribing antibiotics for conditions that don't need antibiotics, such as the flu or other viral infections.”

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