By now we’re all well aware of “superbugs,” or antibiotic resistant bacteria. These terrifying pathogens present a grave threat to the future of human health, because they’ve grown immune to our best medical treatments.
But not all superbugs are created equal. Some are certainly more common than others, and certain strains carry a higher mortality risk. Perhaps the most dangerous superbug is Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriacea, also known as CRE.
It’s been called a “nightmare” superbug, and is considered among the most dangerous superbugs by the World Health Organization. CRE is immune to pretty much every form of antibiotic, and typically kills half of its victims. Unlike antibiotic resistant staph infections, which are frequently mentioned in the news, you’ve probably never heard of CRE. That’s because this bacteria typically only shows up in hospital patients. It normally resides harmlessly in the gut, until certain medical procedures accidentally transfer it to the bloodstream. So long as CRE stays in that environment, it’s not something the average person has to worry about.
Unfortunately, that state of affairs has changed. Last December, six people in Colorado were infected with CRE, and miraculously they all survived. What’s so puzzling and alarming about this, is that it appears none of these individuals were infected in a hospital.
But the six people in the new report had not stayed in a health care facility for at least a year before they contracted the infection. They had not recently undergone surgery or dialysis, either, and hadn’t received any invasive devices, such as having a catheter or feeding tube inserted — all of which can be risk factors for CRE infections, the report said.
Thus, the six cases appear to be “community-associated” CRE infections, meaning the patients may have picked up these bacteria from somewhere in their everyday lives, outside of a health care setting.
CRE infections outside of a health care setting are “unusual for these bacteria,” said study researcher Sarah Janelle, a health care-associated infections epidemiologist at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. These six cases suggest that “these bacteria might be moving from health care to community settings,” Janelle told Live Science. “Further surveillance of CRE is needed to determine whether this pattern continues in Colorado and to determine if this trend is occurring in other parts of the United States,” Janelle said.
Pretty much the only thing these patients had in common, is that they all suffered from urinary tract infections at some point in the last two years. Considering how common UTI’s are and how long that timeline is, that doesn’t really solve the mystery of how they became infected with CRE. None of these individuals seem connected in any way.
All we know is that one of the world’s most lethal superbugs has somehow made the leap from an isolated hospital setting, to the general public. It’s a rare and frightening pathogen, that may not remain rare in the near future.