A superbug that is resistant to what doctors consider the antibiotic of last resort has been found in the U.S. for the first time, researchers say.
The American military researchers who identified the superbug said it “heralds the emergence of truly pan-drug resistant bacteria,” a term used to describe what would be bacteria resistant to all antibiotics.
The superbug, a strain of E. coli, was discovered last month in a 49-year-old woman in Pennsylvania who was treated for a urinary tract infection. This superbug is resistant to colistin, an antibiotic that is held in reserve for the most hard-to-treat bacteria.
CRE and colistin
The E. coli strain found in the woman is actually treatable with other antibiotics, so it’s not an immediate threat. The fear is that this resistance will spread to a class of bacteria known as CRE, which are very difficult to treat but have yet to become resistant to colistin.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls CRE an “important threat to public health.” If CRE bacteria do become resistant to colistin, there may not be any antibiotics left that can stop them.
What perplexed medical experts most about the case of the Pennsylvania woman is that she had not traveled outside the country, so how the bacteria got into her system is a mystery. She recovered.
Health officials worldwide have been worried about growing antibiotic resistance for some time. The more people use antibiotics, the more likely they are to develop a resistance to the medicine.
White House plan of attack
The CDC estimates that up to half of all human antibiotic use is unnecessary or inappropriate. Based on this, the Obama administration in 2015 created "The National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria."
Five key goals of the White House plan:
- Slow the emergence of resistant bacteria and prevent the spread of resistant infections
- Strengthen national surveillance efforts to combat resistance
- Develop rapid diagnostic tests for identification of resistant bacteria
- Accelerate development of new antibiotics and vaccines
- Improve international collaboration on fighting antibiotic resistance and research
How to protect yourself
Most antibiotic-resistant infections occur locally due to skin infections from MRSA and from sexually transmitted diseases. However, the majority of deaths related to antibiotic resistance occur from drug-resistant infections picked up in healthcare settings, such as hospitals and nursing homes.
Here are some tips from the CDC to protect yourself from superbugs:
When you get sick, hold back from asking your doctor for antibiotics unless they offer effective treatment for your specific illness. When taking antibiotics, do not skip doses and follow all instructions from your doctor.
Common safety practices and good hygiene can help prevent disease. Don't forget to:
- Stay current on regular vaccinations against drug-resistant bacteria.
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water before eating and after using the restroom.
- Also wash your hands after handling uncooked food.
- Cook meat and poultry thoroughly to kill bacteria.
If you have questions about superbugs and antibiotics, talk with your health care provider. You can find a Providence provider here.