CRE: The new nightmare bacteria

CDC
March 5, 2013

A family of bacteria has become increasingly resistant to last-resort antibiotics during the past decade, and more hospitalized patients are getting lethal infections that, in some cases, are impossible to cure.  The findings, published today in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vital Signs report, are a call to action for the entire health care community to work urgently – individually, regionally and nationally – to protect patients. During just the first half of 2012, almost 200 hospitals and long-term acute care facilities treated at least one patient infected with these bacteria. 

The bacteria, Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), kill up to half of patients who get bloodstream infections from them. In addition to spreading among patients, often on the hands of health care personnel, CRE bacteria can transfer their resistance to other bacteria within their family. This type of spread can create additional life-threatening infections for patients in hospitals and potentially for otherwise healthy people. Currently, almost all CRE infections occur in people receiving significant medical care in hospitals, long-term acute care facilities, or nursing homes.

“CRE are nightmare bacteria.  Our strongest antibiotics don’t work and patients are left with potentially untreatable infections,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.  “Doctors, hospital leaders, and public health, must work together now to implement CDC’s “detect and protect” strategy and stop these infections from spreading.”

Enterobacteriaceae are a family of more than 70 bacteria including Klebsiella pneumoniae and E. coli that normally live in the digestive system. Over time, some of these bacteria have become resistant to a group of antibiotics known as carbapenems, often referred to as last-resort antibiotics.  During the last decade, CDC has tracked one type of CRE from a single health care facility to health care facilities in at least 42 states.  In some medical facilities, these bacteria already pose a routine challenge to health care professionals.

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