‘Superbug’ on minds of health officials

PARKERSBURG – Health officials are on the lookout for a drug-resistant “superbug” that has made its way to facilities across the country from Europe.

“We haven’t had any problems with Carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE),” said Susan Dearman, infection control officer for Camden Clark Medical Center. “We are always on alert for any multi-drug resistant organism.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued warnings to hospitals across the nation that CRE is becoming more prevalent in hospitals.

“It is certainly a scary thing,” said Dick Wittberg, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department. “There are more and more of these bugs becoming a threat.”

CRE was first identified in the United States in 2001 and has been steadily increasing in prevalence in the last decade, according to the CDC. The organism has been around in some form since 1992.

Healthy people typically do not get infected with CRE, as those infections most commonly occur in people who are receiving treatment for other conditions. This particular bacteria most often affects people with underlying health conditions, who have been hospitalized for a long period of time or who live in a nursing home, Dearman said.

Patients who use ventilators, urinary catheters, intravenous catheters or long courses of certain antibiotics are most at risk for CRE infections, according to the CDC.

CRE infections have high mortality rates, causing death in nearly 50 percent of people with serious infections, and the resistance can spread to other bacteria. At this time, CRE doesn’t spread easily from person to person like other types of bacteria can, like the bacteria that causes pink eye or strep throat.

Health care facilities and providers are not required to report CRE cases to local health departments, so it’s difficult to obtain solid numbers about how many CRE infections are occurring locally or nationally.

According to the health department, prevention is important because treatment options are limited once a patient is infected. Patients and their families are encouraged to remind those entering a patient’s room to wash their hands and be wary of using antibiotics unnecessarily with common illness that will go away without antibiotic use.

“This isn’t really a new infection, but it is becoming more and more prevalent and the frightening part of it is that it is not treatable by any antibiotic,” Dearman said. “There is no way to treat it if someone gets it.

“In the case of a patient developing CRE, there is little we can do but treat the symptoms and hope for the best,” she said.

Wittberg said the excessive use of antibiotics is a factor in the rise of drug-resistant bacteria.

“We have a culture of wanting a pill to fix things and that is causing problems,” he said.