New Superbugs

You’ve heard of MRSA infections, due to methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, but public health and infectious disease experts are concerned about a new generation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  These bacteria cause high mortality rates and are impervious to some, if not all, of our toughest antibiotics, called carbapenems, those typically used as a last line of defense against disease.

In a survey of healthcare facilities in the Chicago area conducted by Rush, researchers found a surprising increase in the incidence of one of these “superbugs”–those that produce KPC, or Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase, an enzyme that destroys carbapenems. 

These bacteria are variants of Klebsiella pneumoniae, common bacteria that naturally live on the skin and in the mouth and intestines and can cause pneumonia and urinary tract infections. KPC-producing bacteria were first identified in the U.S. on the East Coast in 1999 and have been gradually spreading across the country. The first report of the bacteria in Chicago was in 2007. 

The new survey found that in just one year, between March 2009 and February 2010, the incidence of these bacteria jumped from 49 percent of facilities to 65 percent. The number of cases in each facility almost tripled. Long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, were found to be particularly susceptible. 

“Since antibiotics are virtually ineffective against these bacteria, prevention is key,” said Dr. Mary Hayden, who led the study.  Hayden is director of clinical microbiology and associate professor of infectious diseases and pathology at Rush.

One important measure, she said, is coordination between long-term care facilities and acute-care hospitals, since patients who are infected with KPC-colonizing bacteria are often transferred between facilities for treatment. Contact isolation is crucial to control spread of the bacteria.

The results of the survey were presented today at the annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America in Vancouver.

Read more in our news release.

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