CDC Warns About ‘Superbugs’ in Hospitals

Credit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is raising concerns about “superbugs,” which are responsible for a growing number of lethal infections in hospitals and nursing homes.

The infections are caused by a family of bacteria known as Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae or CRE, which have become resistant to all or nearly all antibiotics. The superbugs have been found at hospitals in 42 states, including here in Georgia.The broadcast version of this story.

Jesse Jacob is an Assistant Professor of infectious diseases at Emory University’s School of Medicine. He’s part of a program that works with laboratories in the Atlanta area to look for, collect data and provide feedback on CRE.

He says CRE infections are from a family of germs which normally live harmlessly in your digestive system. But if they get outside of your digestive system, Jacob says they can cause pneumonia, bloodstream and urinary tract infections.

“These infections can be serious. There are several reports suggest that up to 40 to 50 percent of patients with CRE die.”

Jacob says a person has to be exposed to CRE bacteria to become infected.

“The most severe ones are the ones that get into the blood. Those are often associated with catheters that are placed in veins, you can get infections from wounds, after surgery, remember this lives in the intestines, so if you have surgery on the intestines you can get it that way as well.

And Jacob says the lethal bacteria have been found in Atlanta hospitals.

“It varies. Some hospitals haven’t seen it at all, some hospitals have seen a few…and some hospitals have seen more.”  

However, because the program is voluntary Jacob says he’s not allowed to say which hospitals CRE has been found in. A  CDC Vital Signs Report examined data from a 5 month period during 2011 in three communities including Atlanta. Out of 72 positive cultures for CRE, 59 came from Atlanta.

To prevent CRE from becoming more widespread outside of hospitals, the CDC is encouraging health care providers to take precautions around patients with CRE, ensure frequent hand washing, prescribe antibiotics wisely, and to remove temporary medical devices such as catheters and ventilators as soon as possible.