The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced March 5, that 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. 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. Health care personnel are often guilty of spreading the bacteria from patient to patient. CRE bacteria can transfer their resistance to other bacteria within their family, creating additional life-threatening infections for patients in hospitals and infecting non-patients. Thus far, 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. Possibly due to overuse of antibiotics, doctors prescribing antibiotics when not needed, some of these bacteria have become resistant to a group of antibiotics known as carbapenems, often referred to as last-resort antibiotics. In the past ten years, the CDC has tracked one type of CRE from one health care facility to others in at least 42 states.
What can an individual do to protect himself from this drug-resistant bacteria?
- Never demand an antibiotic for yourself or your child. There are many illnesses for which antibiotics will not help. Accept this and follow the doctor's instructions.
- Always wash your hands after using a public toilet. Wash your hands after visiting a doctor's office, hospital, nursing care facility or the home of a chronically ill person.
- Clean store cart handles with rubbing alcohol wipes. Keep your hands away from your face while shopping.
- Tell your doctor to Stop. If your doctor approaches you for an exam and has not washed her hands first, ask her to stop and wash her hands. Otherwise, she can transfer the germs of one patient to the next.
- Be an advocate for persons in senior health care facilities. Ask personnel to wash their hands before touching the resident.
Don't be shy about asking doctors, nurses and other personnel in health care facilities to wash their hands. Your life, or that of a friend or family member, may depend upon you asking.