An Antibiotic-Resistant Superbug Killed A Nevada Woman

Photographed by Megan Madden.
Think that superbugs and antibiotic-resistant bacteria only exist in apocalyptic sci-fi movies and internet clickbait? If you want to keep living in an idyllic fantasy, click away, because STAT is reporting that a Reno, NV, woman has died after contracting a bacteria resistant to every antibiotic available in the United States.

"It was tested against everything that’s available in the United States...and was not effective," Alexander Kallen, MD, a medical officer in the CDC's division of healthcare quality promotion, said in the report.

Scientists are pointing to the case as cause for alarm, insisting that more researchers need to take antibiotic-resistant bacteria seriously. A more in-depth study on this case and superbugs was published this week in the journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a CDC publication.

The report explains that the woman had broken her leg in India, where drug-resistant bacteria are more commonly found. After treatment, she developed an infection in her bone. In mid-August, she was admitted to a hospital in Reno, where it was discovered that she had a carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae or CRE. According to STAT, "CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden has called CREs 'nightmare bacteria' because of the danger they pose for spreading antibiotic resistance."

Testing at the hospital showed that the CRE was resistant to 14 kinds of antibiotics. After sending a sample to the CDC in Atlanta, it was determined that nothing in the U.S. could treat the infection.

"I think this is the harbinger of future badness to come," James Johnson, MD, professor of infectious diseases medicine at the University of Minnesota and a specialist at the Minnesota VA Medical Center, told STAT.

The patient was isolated during her time at the hospital, so there is no fear of spreading the CRE. The only lingering worry is that there could be more cases involving antibiotic-resistant CREs, since the CDC doesn't have a way to fight them. Dr. Johnson insists that it's highly unlikely that a case like this could happen again, but he does worry about the future of superbugs.

"People have asked me many times ‘How scared should we be? How close are we to the edge of the cliff?’ And I tell them: 'We’re already falling off the cliff,'" he said. "It’s happening. It’s just happening — so far — on a relatively small scale and mostly far away from us."
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