Superbug: ‘Phantom Menace’ Bacteria Is On The Rise In The United States, How Does Antibiotic Resistance Work? [Video]

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was released on Tuesday stating that a superbug is on the rise in the United States. Scientists are referring to the superbug as the “phantom menace” which is a carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae form of bacteria. Because the “phantom menace” is in the CRE class, it is resistant to a wide range of antibiotics. The CRE class of bacteria is very hard to treat.

Most antibiotics do not work since the bacteria have evolved to become immune to the medication. Due to the antibiotic resistance, CRE’s are proving fatal in almost 50 percent of patients who are diagnosed with it. The CDC wants the medical community to take the “phantom menace” superbug very seriously.

The report from the CDC brought concern due to how this particular superbug evolved. Normally, antibiotics fight bacteria by attacking and degrading the cell wall of the bacteria. The “phantom menace” does not allow for this to happen due to its shape and molecular design.

The “phantom menace” goes on the offense when an antibiotic comes in contact with it. The superbug has an extra piece of DNA attached to it, and this extra piece of DNA uses an enzyme to attack antibiotics, making them ineffective. The “phantom menace” also has the ability to use its genetic makeup and attach itself to other cells in the body. This leads to a rapid reproduction cycle.

Scientists are calling this superbug the “phantom menace” due to the fact that it is so hard to find. Protocols for lab tests have now been altered to have a better chance of detecting the superbug. The CDC Director Thomas Frieden commented on the CRE bacteria.

“This is a tricky drug-resistant bacteria, and it isn’t easily found. What we’re seeing is an assault by the microbes on the last bastion of antibiotics.”

The CDC has been tracking this bacteria from 2010 to 2015 in 19 states. The CDC was also able to confirm that 43 people had the superbug. The fact that only 43 cases have been reported since 2010 may make it seem that the “phantom menace” is not that big of a deal. Frieden strongly disagrees and claims that this is “just the tip of the iceberg.” What is happening with other antibiotic drugs and bacteria in other places across the world?

In November, a group of researchers in China made an alarming discovery. The team discovered a new gene that is extremely resistant to antibiotics. To make matters worse, the bacteria appears to be designed in such a way that it can replicate rapidly. The newly discovered bacteria was tested against antibiotics when it was discovered that it was resistant to polymyxins.

Polymyxins are considered by the medical community to be the last resort to fight a superbug. Professor Jian-Hua Liu, the author of the research study, commented about the superbug in a press conference.

“Our results reveal the emergence of the first polymyxin resistance gene that is readily passed between common bacteria such as Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae, suggesting that the progression from extensive drug resistance to pandrug resistance is inevitable.”

Lance Price, head of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at George Washington University, spoke with National Geographic about the superbug.

“History shows that these mobile resistance genes can spread around the world quickly, silently riding in people, animals, and food. The news that MCR-1 has been discovered in Denmark suggests that this scenario is playing out in real time.”

Will the “phantom menace” superbug spread quicker in the United States? How long do you think we have before it becomes official that not all antibiotics work anymore?

[Image Via AP Photo/David Goldman]