(WUSA)- There is a race to stop a family of once-rare bacteria that has evolved to elude the strongest drugs we have. Death rates with these infections are around 40%.
A USA Today investigation tracked the of these lethal germs to healthcare facilities in 42 states, including Maryland, Virginia and the District. And Nine News first told you about one of these outbreaks at NIH this past summer.
The bacteria that plagued the Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health for more than a year infected 19 people; 7 of them died from the infections. And no matter what extreme infection control measures were taken, (a wall was built to isolate infected patients in a separate wing, and plumbing ripped out that could harbor the bacteria), the superbug stayed.
That doesn't surprise investigative journalist Peter Eisler of USA TODAY.
SEE USA TODAY'S COMPLETE STORY HERE
In the course of his reporting, he found that, "the conventional wisdom with CRE is that once it is in a hospital it is virtually impossible to eliminate."
CRE stands for Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae , and describes strains of bacteria that have become resistant to carbapenem antibiotics.
Eisler says, "They are the last thing in the medical community's toolbox. So when you have an infection that doesn't respond to these particular drugs, there is literally nothing doctors can do for you, they just have to essentially hope that you can tough it out."
Eisler says CRE infections can manifest in many ways, from pneumonia to urinary tract infections. They tend to strike immuno-compromised people, those with major illnesses, or who've undergone organ transplants or chemotherapy. Our nation's sickest patients often visit or are transferred to several hospitals rehab centers, and long-term care facilities. CRE can travel with them, and the staff may not realize a patient is colonized.
Scientists tell Eisler that, right now, there are no new antibiotics in the pipeline that hold much promise against the CRE's. Infection control at the institutional and individual level is paramount.
What can you do? If you or a loved one is hospitalized, wash hands rigorously and make sure medical staff do the same when they enter the room. Eisler says you may even want to bring some Clorox wipes along to disinfect surfaces in the room. And you can ask if any of the patients around you are dealing with hospital-acquired infections.