Superbugs and Antibiotics: Have We Created a Monster?

As our dependence on antibiotics continues, a group of drug-resistant bacteria that had once been only rarely seen has now become a growing problem, ever since it began spreading through patients like wildfire in healthcare facilities four years ago. Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) is the name of a family of bacteria which are resistant to carbapenem antibiotics – the strongest available in medicine today. Three distinct strains of CRE have been identified in infected patients, all with a common resistance gene that is able to jump to other Enterobacteriaceae bacteria, turning them into CRE.

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A new superbug is threatening patients in healthcare facilities.

What’s even scarier is that the bug can remain dormant in a healthy person and not cause symptoms until the immune system becomes compromised due to illness. For patients infected by CRE, the death rate can be up to 40 percent.

As of now, there are no drugs being developed that are expected to be effective against CRE, due to a combination of the bacteria being highly adaptable, as well as a lack of motivation by pharma companies to develop antibiotics that would only be taken by a patient until he’s cured – making them less profitable than other drugs for long-term, chronic conditions.

So for now, the focus is on prevention. However, it’s hard to tell how the bug is spreading nationally because not every state requires its hospitals to report on cases. Without knowing the full scope of the problem, researchers are having trouble coming up with a strategy for prevention and containment.

While most agree on basic preventative measures – rigorous hand washing by staff and visitors, isolating infected patients, requiring gloves when dealing with infected patients, cutting antibiotic use to slow the development of resistant strains, and limiting invasive medical procedures – not everyone agrees on the practice of screening for CREs.

Those hospitals that have introduced heavy-handed screening practices have seen promising results in terms of isolating infected patients and cutting down on the number of CRE cases they’re seeing, but many disagree about making screening a requirement for all healthcare facilities. This is because it can be difficult to identify who is at risk for carrying the bacteria, and screening every patient is simply not a viable option for facilities like nursing homes and clinics without adequate resources to do so.

Do you believe our heavy reliance on antibiotics contributed to the development of this drug-resistant bacteria? Tell us your thoughts below.