Roughly 160 patients within the UCLA health system were warned that they may have been given a procedure with contaminated equipment. The bacteria that infected the equipment are called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, otherwise referred to as CRE. So far, the bacteria have been confirmed in seven people and of those, two died.
There are several types of drug-resistant bacteria with CRE being one. Others include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA and Clostridium diffcile or C diff. These bacteria have evolved to the point that no known antibiotics can kill them. Because of this, the bacteria are called superbugs.
The problem is that if a drug-resistant bacteria like CRE enters the bloodstream, an infection developed that antibiotics cannot fight. Unfortunately, approximately 50% of people who get an infection of this type die.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug-resistant bacterial infections are extremely common, with at minimum two million people in the US alone becoming infected annually, with about 23,000 dying. The agency continues saying that 1 in every 25 patients has at least one infection that is health-related on any given day.
In 2011, the number of healthcare-related infections in US acute care hospitals reached 722,000. A huge challenge is that often, these infections involve people already in the hospital who are sick and have compromised immune systems, making it difficult for the body to fight off infection.
Bacteria are extremely small and therefore, can hide in spaces that are impossible to see, like endoscopes in the case of the UCLA breakout. Regardless of how much equipment is cleaned and sterilized, some bacteria remain. Although healthcare professionals are doing everything possible to keep hospital settings safe, these invisible bacteria find their way into equipment, drains, and other hidden places. Bacteria then get onto the hands and clothing of workers and passed on to patients.
The other challenge is that there are few drugs that can treat CRE and other drug-resistant infections. Those used only as a last resort are carbapenems but if this does not work, a patient faces a dire situation.
These bacteria are capable of producing Klebsiella pneumonia carbapenemase, which is an enzyme that causes a wide range of antibiotics to become totally ineffective. Some of these include cephalosporins, penicillins, and beta-lactams.