What You Need To Know About UCLA's Superbug

Last week, an outbreak of an antibiotic-resistant superbug claimed the lives of two patients at UCLA's Ronald Reagan Medical Center, and now, another patient has died in North Carolina. But, while the threat of a killer infection is always scary, you probably don’t need to worry too much about this one.

The superbug, CRE (carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae), is actually a family of germs, including Escheria coli and Klebsiella species. They occur normally in our gut, but when they spread to the urinary tract or bloodstream, they can cause potentially-deadly infections. These infections are particularly difficult to treat because CRE are resistant to many available antibiotics — including heavy-duty carbapenems, which are usually saved for a last resort.

These infections often occur in patients (in healthcare settings, such as hospitals) whose immune systems are already in a vulnerable state — or who are taking antibiotics for other reasons. As the CDC says, “Healthy people usually don’t get CRE infections.”

Kevin McCarthy, a spokesman with the Carolinas HealthCare System, told CNN that 18 people in the Carolinas have contracted CRE so far this year. Of them, 15 had CRE upon admission to the Charlotte hospital and three acquired it in the hospital. In Los Angeles, seven patients contracted CRE after routine endoscopic procedures. Hospital officials credited the outbreak to two medical scopes that carried the deadly bacteria despite disinfection guidelines having been followed. The FDA has since released an alert about these tools, and the CDC is working on a new protocol to help prevent more infections.

Although this CRE outbreak may not be an immediate health risk for you, it does serve as a reminder of our larger problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which stems from a variety of factors, including overprescription and the use of antibiotics in livestock.

The CDC is working to better understand the true number of CRE infections in the U.S. At the moment, CRE infections are not a nationally notifiable condition, meaning there's no requirement to report a case to the CDC. 
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