health officials concerned about the spread of deadly cre infections

In previous posts, we’ve examined how hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities that fail to follow proper sterilization procedures and/or implement the necessary infection control strategies can be struck by potentially deadly outbreaks of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infections.

To recap, a MRSA infection is defined by the Mayo Clinic as a potentially deadly infection that is “caused by a strain of staph bacteria that’s become resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat ordinary staph infections.” Similarly, a C. diff infection is defined as a “bacterium that can cause [serious] symptoms and typically occurs after use of antibiotic medications.”

As if these two hospital-acquired infections weren’t frightening enough, health officials are now growing increasingly concerned about another so-called “superbug” that is showing up in healthcare facilities and hospitals across the U.S., including right here in Pennsylvania.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thousands of Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) infections have been reported in at least 41 states since 2001.

What makes this particular infection so worrying, outside of its ability to spread and mutate, is that it has an uncanny ability to resist carbapenem antibiotics, long considered the last line of defense by medical professionals. In fact, statistics show that the death rates among people with CRE infections are 40 percent higher than those with MRSA or C. diff infections.

“From the perspective of drug-resistant organisms, (CRE) is the most serious threat, the most serious challenge we face to patient safety,” said an associate director for prevention of health care-associated infections for the CDC.

If CRE infections sound familiar, it’s because they were linked to multiple deaths this past summer at a prominent medical center in Virginia. Here, seven patients, including a 16-year-old, succumbed to the illness.

According to CDC officials, patient screening and simple preventative measures can go a long way toward helping reduce the spread of CRE infections. This includes hospitals, clinics, and/or healthcare facilities requiring their medical personnel to do the following:

  • Wash their hands rigorously and regularly
  • Isolate infected patients
  • Wear gloves and gowns when in contact with infected patients
  • Use antibiotics judiciously
  • Limit use of invasive medical devices

“We’re working with state health departments to try to figure out how big a problem this is,” said the CDC official. “You can never eradicate CRE, but we can prevent the spread … It’s a matter of summoning the will.”

Here’s hoping that hospitals and medical facilities don’t compromise patient health by failing to implement these simple steps in order to protect their bottom line.

Sources: USA Today, “Deadly ‘superbugs’ invade U.S. health care facilities,” Peter Eisler, Nov. 29, 2012; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) infection”

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