This is one of those anecdotes that make you stop and think, and then worry. A woman died in September in Reno, Nev., of a superbug that resisted 26 different kinds of antibiotics, the CDC reported yesterday in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Concern about overuse of antibiotics that lessens their potency has been voiced time and again for decades. But for those not in medicine—for most of the public—it’s sort of like the concern we might have of being hit by a life-extinguishing meteor. It’s one of those fears that you push to the side while worrying about more mundane problems, like finding a job or fixing a car.
This story puts the meteor in our sights. Alexander Kallen, MD, a medical officer in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s division of health care quality promotion, tells STAT that, “It was tested against everything that’s available in the United States … and was not effective.”
That doesn’t make you stop and think? Then how about this? (Also told to STAT.) James Johnson, MD, a professor of infectious diseases medicine at the University of Minnesota, says that, “I think this is the harbinger of future badness to come.”
Even children are more at risk.
This particular case also underscores the need for greater vigilance by people who’ve been out of the country for a while. The unnamed woman, who was in her 70s, came back to the United States after an extended stay in India. She was admitted to the hospital in August 2016. Doctors found carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae in her gut. These bacteria are resistant to carbapenems—a last-ditch antibiotic defense used when other antibiotics fail. She died in early September.
The CDC reports that, “During the two years preceding this U.S. hospitalization, the patient had multiple hospitalizations in India related to a right femur fracture and subsequent osteomyelitis of the right femur and hip; the most recent hospitalization in India had been in June 2016…. Health care facilities should obtain a history of health care exposures outside their region upon admission and consider screening for CRE [carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae] when patients report recent exposure outside the United States or in regions of the United States known to have a higher incidence of CRE.”