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Dreaded Superbug has Reached the U.S.

Dreaded Superbug has Reached the U.S.


Antibiotic resistance has gone to the next level in the U.S. as a 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman was discovered to have a strain of E. coli resistant to colistin, the antibiotic used when all others fail. Colistin is an older drug that health care providers stopped using in the 1970s due to its potential toxicity, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Its lack of use has made it an asset in the fight against drug-resistant strains.

That changes now with this newest mutation of the E. coli. A study published in May by the American Society for Microbiology calls this recent case an infection by a pan-drug resistant bacteria.

What are the Risks?

The one case in Pennsylvania is not a reason to panic, by any means, but it does show a progression. This patient can still be treated with other antibiotics, but the emergence of this strain shows the growing resistance against the one antibiotic clinicians still had in their arsenal.

Colistin, despite concerns about toxicity, was the go-to drug for dangerous pathogens, including one of the most deadly, CRE. Outbreaks of the superbug CRE in major cities like Seattle, Los Angeles and Chicago have already claimed lives. CRE kills up to 50% of the patients infected and is an ongoing concern for hospitals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists CRE as one of this nation’s most prevalent health care problems.

In November of 2015, public health officials found colistin-resistant strains in pigs and raw pork in China. Since then, the bacteria have spread throughout Europe. For the first time, this same resistant strain has been found in the U.S., showing a clear progression.

Researchers with the Agriculture Department and the Department of Health and Human Services have found that same strain of bacteria in U.S. breed pigs. It is believed that colistin was used in Chinese livestock and that may have lead to the resistant strain.

The CDC is working with the public health department to determine where the PA patient contracted the infection, including researching recent hospitalizations and other health care related exposures. The woman was treated at an outpatient facility recently, so samples from that location were sent out to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for testing to determine if that is the source.

The Future of Antibiotics

Although this one case isn’t causing panic, it does show that the healthcare industry is coming to the end of the road for antibiotics, according to the CDC. Hospitals may start seeing more superbug infections, especially in at-risk areas like intensive care or the cancer units.

Antimicrobial resistance continues to be a growing international problem, one that requires due diligence by all healthcare professionals on the responsible use of antibiotic and reducing the risk of cross-contamination.

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