The Grapevine

'Nightmare Bacteria' Prevalent Across US Hospitals, CDC Warns

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new report that found occurrences of rare antibiotic-resistant genes in "nightmare bacteria" across the U.S., on April 3 in their Vital Signs publication. The report revealed aggressive testing would be the best course of action to stop the spread of these superbugs.

"More than 23,000 Americans die each year from infections caused by germs resistant to antibiotics," the CDC stated on their website. "While antibiotic resistance (AR) threats vary nationwide, AR has been found in every state."

New nationwide testing of bacteria was used to examine isolates of antibiotic-resistant germs from hospitals and nursing homes. Over a period of nine months in 2017, the program found 221 antibiotic-resistant genes in germ isolates gathered in 27 states. "We don’t just rely on antibiotics to treat common infections. Antibiotics are the safety net for most cancer treatments, surgical procedures, and ICU care and organ transplants," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, Principal Deputy Director at the CDC. "Antibiotic resistance threatens this safety net."

When screening people whom hospital patients came into contact with, it was found that 11% of these people carried antibiotic-resistant bacteria, despite showing no symptoms of infection. This meant "the germ could have spread undetected in that healthcare facility," according to the CDC. Dr. Schuchat added that past data showed 50% of people who tested positive for the "nightmare bacteria" did not survive.

Of the 5,776 germs from suspected cases, nearly 25% contained resistance genes that could be passed on to other bacteria. Instead of reproducing new bacteria, this characteristic allows the transfer of resistance from one bacteria to another existing one. As a result, the threat of a "wildfire-like spread" of such unusual resistance looms over the nation.

However, Dr. Schuchat states​ there is also good news to note from the report. The CDC’s rapid response Containment Strategy listed guidelines to help effectively control the spread of the superbugs. The aggressive strategy involves a "coordinated response among health care facilities, labs, health departments and CDC through the AR Lab Network."

After identifying the resistance in a specialized lab, health professionals will conduct an infection control assessment in the affected clinic, hospital or nursing to identify patients without symptoms. Until the spread is stopped, this approach would cost a lot in terms of both time and money.

Dr. Schuchat acknowledged the strategy was "very aggressive" but that containment was the priority. Dr. Paul Auwaerter, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, emphasized the importance of funding.

"The efforts detailed in the Vital Signs report were made possible through new congressional funding in 2016 to combat antibiotic resistance," Dr. Auwaerter said. "We urge Congress to sustain and to grow that investment so that further progress will prepare us to meet the future challenges of antibiotic resistance from a position of strength."