Drug-resistant bacteria on rise in U.S. hospitals

Health officials said on Tuesday that deadly bacterial infections resistant to the strongest antibiotics are on the rise in U.S. hospitals and a limited window of opportunity exists to stop them from spreading.

Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the organisms are a nightmare bacteria that can pass their drug resistance along to other bacteria. The resistant bacteria are normally found in the gut, but if the bacteria reaches the bloodstream, urinary tract or lungs, the illness can be untreatable and fatal, the New York Times reports.

The bacteria can even resist carbapenems, a group of drugs often used as a last treatment resort. A recent report by the CDC found that among all infections with gut bacteria, the proportion of carbapenem-resistant bacteria cases jumped from one percent in 2001 to four percent in 2012. Of infections by one type of bacteria, Klebsiella, 10 percent are now drug-resistant versus two percent a decade earlier.

Drug-resistant Klebsiella caused a notorious outbreak in 2011 at a National Institutes of Health hospital in which 17 people were infected and six died.

Frieden said the infections appear not to have spread beyond hospitals into the community at large, but it would not be difficult for that spread to occur.

The CDC recommends ruthless scrubbing of all surfaces, relentless hand washing, isolating patients who are infected, assigning dedicated care teams to the infected, removing intravenous and catheter lines as quickly as possible and only prescribing antibiotics when they are truly needed. Patients and their loved ones should also insist that medical personnel wash their hands prior to touching a patient, the New York Times reports.

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