Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Illinois has become home to the biggest “nightmare bacteria” outbreak in the United States to date. Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say 44 people have fallen ill due to drug-resistant infections from bacteria that could hold “potentially catastrophic consequences.”

According to the CDC, carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) is a family of over 70 bacteria, such as Klebsiella pneumonia and E. coli, that over time have become resistant to antibiotics known as carbapenems. CRE reports in the past decade have increased fourfold and around 18 percent of long-term healthcare facilities treated a patient that suffered from a CRE infection back in 2012.

“CRE are nightmare bacteria.  Our strongest antibiotics don’t work and patients are left with potentially untreatable infections,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement last March. “Doctors, hospital leaders, and public health must work together now to implement CDC’s “detect and protect” strategy and stop these infections from spreading.”

Thirty-eight of the 44 people from Northeastern Illinois infected by CRE had undergone endoscopic surgery at Advocate Lutheran General within the past year. Subsequently, 243 patients who had also gone in to the hospital for an endoscopic procedure were tested for the infection. Trace amounts of the bacteria were discovered in some of the patient’s digestive tract. The largest spread of CRE, prior to the current outbreak in Illinois, was reported at a Denver hospital in 2012 in which eight patients fell ill.

Back in early March of this year, the CDC released a statement calling for help from the entire health care community. Experts are hoping to come up with a viable solution for this infection that is notoriously difficult to treat. CRE reports in other countries are not uncommon and have been controlled in the past. Health officials from Israel were able to reduce CRE rates in its 27 hospitals by over 70 percent. Ninety-seven cases of CRE infection have been reported to the CDC since 2009.

“We have seen in outbreak after outbreak that when facilities and regions follow CDC’s prevention guidelines, CRE can be controlled and even stopped,” said Dr. Michael Bell, acting director of CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. “As trusted healthcare providers, it is our responsibility to prevent further spread of these deadly bacteria.”