'Nightmare bacteria' infects 44 patients at a Chicago hospital

44 patients have been infected with CRE at the facility

Forty-four patients at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital have been infected with carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE) bacteria over the past year, making it the biggest outbreak of the "nightmare bacteria" to date, CDC reports. 

'Nightmare bacteria' on the rise at U.S. hospitals, CDC says

CRE has a rare enzyme that breaks down antibiotics, leaving about half of the patients it infects dead. According to a CDC report published last March, the strain is becoming more common and has made an appearance at health care facilities in at least 42 states.

When a handful of patients exhibited symptoms of a CRE infection last year, the Park Ridge, Ill., hospital contacted 243 patients who may have had contact with the bug during an endoscopic procedure. Of the 114 patients who returned for screenings, 38 tested positive for CRE.

CDC: Superbugs can be spread via endoscopy

"This is a huge cluster," says Alex Kallen, CDC supervisor for the Illinois outbreak investigation. Only 97 CRE infections have been reported to the agency since 2009.

About 10 of the Advocate patients were treated with a cocktail of antibiotics and released, while 28 symptom-free patients are still considered carriers. CRE typically lives in the intestines and is spread through fecal matter, not by casual contact.

Advocate's strategy to fight CRE

Although CRE spread through endoscopy, CDC says the hospital used correct cleaning methods for the devices. CRE bacteria were found on three of the devices, so the facility has since started using gas sterilization to clean them. A CDC report published earlier this month emphasized how the design of the device can make it difficult to clean and explained how superbugs can be spread through the scopes.

"These types of bacteria are an emerging problem," says Leo Kelly, one of Advocate's vice presidents. He added that the hospital is using "constant vigilance" to fight CRE and working on strategies to use software monitoring to detect the bacteria and protect patients (Porter, Wall Street Journal, 1/7).

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