Antibiotic-resistant bacteria ‘a global health emergency’ killing 23,000 Americans annually
Doctors’ worst fear realized is now stalking U.S. hospitals, forcing the country’s health officials to think outside the box to try to derail a nightmare bacterium resistant to almost every drug.
In 2017 alone, Kaiser Health News reports, antibiotic-resistant bacteria were found more than 200 times in American hospitals in a first-of-a-kind study of what the World Health Organization calls “a global health emergency.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uncovered more than 220 cases last year of this rare breed of bacteria scarier than any Stephen King novel. Virtually untreatable, these bacteria are capable of spreading genes that make them impervious to most antibiotics. Two of the most dangerous superbug germs terrorizing America’s hospitals and healthcare centers are carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriacease (CRE) and carbapenem-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria (CRPA).
The CDC is now in a frantic race against time trying to keep up with antibiotic-resistant bacteria (ARB). At this point in the race, ARB is Usain Bolt, the world’s health industry is the tortoise.
“As fast as we have to slow (antibiotic) resistance, some germs have outpaced,” CDC principal deputy director Anne Schuchat said NBC News. “We need to do more and we need to do it faster and earlier.”
To get back in the game, the CDC and the entire healthcare industry is rethinking how they fight germs. The CDC set up a nationwide lab network in 2016 to assist hospitals to swiftly diagnose such infections and prevent them from spreading. The network’s early returns were especially troubling. In one in 10 cases, people infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria spread the disease to apparently healthy people in the hospital, including patients, doctors and nurses. These people in turn become silent carriers of illness, infecting others even if they don’t become sick.
Nightmare bacteria is becoming one of the fastest growing killers in the U.S. According to the CDC, about two million Americans are sickened by ARB each year, and 23,000 die. Health officials worry the worst is still to come.
Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer, has warned of a “post-antibiotic apocalypse” unless new drugs are developed. Researchers fearfully have forecasted a potential post-antibiotic era in which patients succumb to once treatable infections.
Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, calls the problem to a “slow-moving tsunami.”
“This isn’t an acute crisis where a wave just hits you,” Osterholm told USA Today. “But we see these rare cases of resistance in remote areas of the world, and within a year or two, it’s everywhere.”
Still, there is hope on the horizon. Worldwide, the health industry is racing to address the problem, and some good news has emerged with studies showing aggressive hospital action can limit the spread of outbreaks. Case in point: the CDC network diagnosed bacteria-carrying genes in an Iowa nursing home resident with a urinary tract infection. Staff tested 30 other nursing home residents and discovered five were also infected.
Schuchat said aggressive hospital measures, including wearing gowns and gloves while caring for infected patients prevented anyone else from getting sick. The CDC notes vigorously diagnosing and containing such infections can slash new infection rates by 76 percent.
Aggressive measures, such as wearing gowns and gloves while caring for infected patients, prevented anyone else from getting sick, Schuchat said. Vigorously diagnosing and containing such infections can reduce infections by 76%, the CDC said.
The CDC’s efforts include helping staff up state health departments and labs to speedily test samples so that hospitals, clinics and other facilities can rapidly isolate patients infected with them.
Still, antibiotic resistant bacteria kill 700,000 people worldwide each year. That heartbreaking statistic is one reason why the British government has called for investing $40 billion over the next 10 years to combat the problem. Without immediate action, a 2016 report commission by the UK government and Wellcome Trust, sadly foresees annual ARB deaths rising to 10 million without significant advances in the fight against nightmare bacteria.
The WHO has termed antibiotic resistance a “fundamental threat” to humanity, but the world is ready to fight back.
“CDC’s study found several dangerous pathogens, hiding in plain sight, that can cause infections that are difficult or impossible to treat,” Schuchat said. “While they are appearing all over the place, an aggressive approach can snuff them out.”