Woman Killed By Superbug: ‘Pan-Resistant’ Bacteria Now Considered Worldwide Threat To Humans

John Houck

A superbug resistant to every available antibiotic has killed a woman in Reno, Nevada. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the woman died in September after 26 different antibiotics failed to cure her infection.

Before returning to the U.S. from India, the woman was hospitalized multiple times, complaining of various symptoms. However, once back in Nevada, she was again admitted to the hospital in mid-August.

Doctors had determined she had contracted a specific bacterium called Klebsiella pneumoniae. This variety of superbug can cause a variety of diseases such as pneumonia and urinary tract infections depending on which part of the body it attacks. It is not an airborne superbug, but can be contracted person-to-person, such as touching an open wound of an infected person.

Different medications were tried to help the woman, but none were effective and the woman ultimately died from the infection. Upon examination, the CDC found an enzyme in the superbug known as New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM), which is immune to antibiotics. This, in effect, made the infection untreatable by any known drugs currently available.

"It was tested against everything that's available in the United States … and was not effective," Dr. Alexander Kallen, a medical officer in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Stat News. "I think it's concerning. We have relied for so long on just newer and newer antibiotics. But obviously the bugs can often [develop resistance] faster than we can make new ones."

While the case is alarming, the CDC says "pan-resistant" bacteria are very rare. Yet, superbugs resistant to antibiotics still remain a global concern.

A report published last year predicted 10 million people per year would die from antibiotic-resistant infections by the year 2050 if nothing were done to combat the threat. The UN General Assembly met in September to discuss the health issue in September of last year.

"If we're waiting for some sort of major signal that we need to attack this internationally, we need an aggressive program, both domestically and internationally to attack this problem, here's one more signal that we need to do that," said Lance Price, with the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at George Washington University, as cited by Stat News.

The CDC said this most recent infection case should serve as a reminder for health practitioners to ask incoming patients about any travel outside the country, especially if the person spent any time in a foreign hospital. In addition, extra "infection control" measures should be taken, such as quarantining anyone who may be sick with a superbug like the woman in Nevada.

The woman had visited India numerous times over the past few years and was hospitalized for a bone infection after being treated previously for a broken right femur. She had spent some time in an Indian hospital as recently as June.

Stat News reports that the type of superbug that killed the woman likely resides in many other people, who will probably get sick at some point, according to Dr. James Johnson at the Minnesota VA Medical Center.

"It's possible that this is the only person in the U.S. and she had the bad luck to go to India, pick up the bad bug, come back and here it is, we found her and now that she's dead, it's gone from the U.S. That is highly improbable."

[Featured Image by Manfred Rohde, Helmholtz-Zentrum fuer Infektionsforschung (HZI)/Getty Images]