A bug dubbed "nightmare bacteria" kills up to half the patients it infects, public health officials said Tuesday, urging hospitals and health care facilities to take necessary precautions to protect against the spread of the disease.
The germ, Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), infected patients in 4 percent of U.S. hospitals in the first half of 2012, and in 18 percent of specialty hospitals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What's more, over the last decade, the forms of CRE resistant to antibiotics have grown 400 percent
"Our strongest antibiotics don't work and patients are left with potentially untreatable infections," Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC director, said in a statement Tuesday. He said doctors, hospitals and public health officials must work together now to "stop these infections from spreading."
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The CRE belong to a family of more than 70 bacteria that normally target the digestive system, but can cause infections in the bladder or bloodstream also. Patients in serious condition receiving care in long-term facilities generally contract the infection because the antibiotics pumping through their bodies shut down their immune systems, making them more susceptible to disease. The germs spread through person-to-person contact, often on the hands of doctors, nurses, or other health care professionals.
So far, the Northeast has reported the most severe CRE outbreaks. In 2011, 18 patients at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md., caught a strain of CRE called Klebsiella pneumonia. Seven of them, including a 16-year-old boy, died.
The CDC urges hospital staff to take precautionary measures such as washing hands and grouping patients infected with CRE in one area of the hospital.
Only six states — Tennessee, Minnesota, Colorado, Wisconsin, Oregon, and North Dakota — require hospitals and health-care facilities to report CRE infections to state health departments, according to the Washington Post.
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