Hospital Superbug: Should You Worry?

A superbug outbreak has killed two patients at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and infected seven others. The hospital has notified 179 other patients that had procedures using the scopes that carried the infection to get tested.

According to the CDC, the superbug, carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, has a mortality rate of up to 50%.

CRE is a group of bacteria that are found in the gut normally. They have mutated to become resistant to common antibiotics by developing an extra enzyme that breaks up the antibiotics.

While the CRE is normal in the gut, if it gets into the blood or bladder, it can cause serious illness or death. Like many bacteria, the real danger is not to healthy individuals who can fight off infection, but to people with weakened immune systems.

It’s particularly dangerous for people with cancer or pancreatitis. As many as 50% of immune-compromised patients will die after contracting CRE.

There’s virtually no chance of contracting CRE outside a medical arena. The bacteria is spread through contaminated intravenous lines, catheters, and instruments.

CREAt Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, the culprit was a contaminated endoscope, a long tube with a camera on the end that’s used to look at the digestive tract.

According to Dr. Frank Esper, an infectious diseases expert at UH Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, speaking to ABCNews, endoscopes are to blame in more hospital-acquired outbreaks than any other device. Apparently, the bacteria survives “sterilization.”

Doctors treat CRE with older antibiotics that may cause more side-effects than newer antibiotics. Since these older drugs are no longer in common use, the superbug has not developed immunity to them, but numerous outbreaks have occurred in recent years prompting doctors to ask for new antibiotics to fight the new bacteria.

According to the CDC, almost every state has had outbreaks of CRE.

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