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A dreaded superbug that doctors have been fearing has reportedly reached the U.S.
A Pennsylvania woman was found to be carrying bacteria resistant to an antibiotic of last resort last month, The Washington Post reported. The 49-year-old’s urine was found to contain an antibiotic-resistant strain of E. coli.
According to a study published Thursday in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, a publication of the American Society for Microbiology, the discovery “heralds the emergence of a truly pan-drug resistant bacteria.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called a family of bacteria known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, an urgent public health threat, according to the Post. Colistin is the antibiotic of last resort for superbugs like CRE which has been called a “nightmare bacteria.”
The woman was treated in an outpatient military facility in Pennsylvania and initial testing samples were sent to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the Post reported. In an effort to see if others might be carrying the organism, the CDC was reportedly planning to screen the patient and her contacts.
The colistin-resistant strain had been discovered in Europe, Africa, South America and Canada following reports of Chinese and British researchers finding the bacteria in pigs, raw pork meat and some people in China in November.
The Pennsylvania case is the first reported one in the U.S. and it has doctors, and lawmakers alarmed.
“It’s hard to imagine worse news for public health in the United States,” said Lance Price, director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center and a George Washington University professor. “We may soon be facing a world where CRE infections are untreatable.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is working with the CDC and Department of Defense in “an appropriate and collaborative” response, the governor said in a statement, according to the Post. “We are taking the emergence of this resistance gene very seriously.”
Health officials, who have been forced to rely on colistin – which is a half a century old and can seriously damage a patient’s kidneys – have been warning of limited treatment options if the superbugs spread.
“It basically shows us that the end of the road isn’t very far away for antibiotics — that we may be in a situation where we have patients in our intensive-care units, or patients getting urinary tract infections for which we do not have antibiotics,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said, according to the Post.
“I’ve cared for patients for whom there are no drugs left. It is a feeling of such horror and helplessness,” said Frieden. “This is not where we need to be.”
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