A potentially deadly superbug has been found in the U.S for the first time ever. In April, a Pennsylvania woman was diagnosed with a very rare form of E. coli that has shown to be resistant to many antibiotics, including the catchall-drug Colistin.
Referencing a report by the U.S. Department of Defense, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Tom Frieden, talked about the unusual case while speaking at the National Press Club on Thursday.
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While visiting a clinic in Pennsylvania, a urine sample was collected from a 49-year-old woman. The sample was sent to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for further analysis.
The center found bacteria known to be resistant to antibiotics in the sample. Researchers became particularly alarmed as the source of the rare superbug could not be immediately determined.
Fearing a spread of the infection, the CDC and the Pennsylvania Department of Health quickly became involved in the investigation to identify anyone the woman may have come into contact with. They also looked into any other potential cases at the clinic she visited.
Dr. Alex Kallen, a medical officer with the CDC, said the woman was treated and released. However, this is the first time this specific strain of E. coli, known as CRE, was found in a person in the U.S.
While the patient indicated she had not traveled out of the U.S. within the past five months, doctors in Europe, Canada, and China have found similar superbug infections. The U.S. Department of Agriculture found one case of antibiotic-resistant E. coli in a sample of pig intestine. The agency is still trying to evaluate exactly what farm the pig came from and if any other animals could be infected.
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Since the antibiotic-resistant superbug was first identified in China last year, microbiologists have been anticipating its appearance in the U.S. and have been diligently watching both the food supply as well as humans for any indication of its presence. Tests of the bacteria have revealed a gene known as mrc-1 that is very resistant to drugs like Colistin.
“This is definitely alarming,” said David Hyun, a senior officer leading an antibiotic-resistance project at the Pew Charitable Trust. “The fact that we found it in the United States confirms our suspicions and adds urgency to actions we need to work on antibiotic stewardship and surveillance for this type of resistance.”
The CDC views these cases as a warning, not necessarily a disaster. However, their primary concern is the traits of this rare E. coli could transfer to other bacteria, making infections very difficult to treat. Once mutated, these new antibiotic-resistant superbug infections could kill nearly 50 percent of the patients who get sick.
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While this is the first deadly superbug case found in the U.S., Frieden said expect to see more in the near future. A critic of doctors’ overuse of antibiotic prescriptions, he is urging scientists to develop new drugs as soon as possible to combat potential outbreaks.
“The medicine cabinet is empty for some patients,” Frieden said. “It is the end of the road unless we act urgently.”
Researchers are unsure if the Pennsylvania case of antibiotic-resistant E. coli is related to the swine case, but doubt they are linked. Yet, the CDC and the USDA believe the two cases are of great concern to U.S. public health. During his speech, Frieden called the new strain a “nightmare bacteria.”
In the U.S., almost 2 million people become ill from a bacterial infection that is highly resistant to antibiotics and 23,000 died as a result. Not long ago, the World Health Organization stated antibiotic-resistant superbugs are a tremendous threat to global health.
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