(NaturalNews) The southeastern U.S. is quickly becoming a hotbed of deadly "superbugs," suggests a new study published in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology. Researchers from the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) found that overall, community hospitals throughout the southeast have witnessed a fivefold increase in cases of highly-contagious, drug-resistant bacteria carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE).
CRE is a class of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that does not respond to today's most commonly-used antibiotics. CRE has been dubbed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as "one of the three greatest threats to human health" because it can trigger infections in the urinary tract, lungs, blood, and elsewhere, leaving patients prone to death. In fact, the latest data suggests that as many as half of all CRE cases will end in death.
These aren't your grandmother's infections, in other words, which is why the scientific community is beginning to take a more serious look at how to avoid them. For the new research, a team from SHEA looked at data compiled over the course of five years on 305 unique patients infected with CRE. These patients had been admitted to one of 25 different community hospitals in the southeast that were evaluated as part of the study.
Using the Duke Infection Control Outreach Network (DICON), the team looked at each of the CRE cases to see how they were spread and whether or not they exhibited noticeable symptoms. Based on this, they determined that nearly every case, or about 94 percent, of CRE had originated in a healthcare setting, either in a hospital or other healthcare facility. And in many of these cases, an increase in the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics was to blame.
"This is a wake up call for community hospitals," says Dr. Joshua Thaden, M.D., lead author of the study. "More must be done to prepare and respond to CRE, specifically infection control to limit person-to-person transmission and improved laboratory detection."
CRE and other superbugs becoming more virulent, study finds
While it is true that improved detection technologies are at least partially responsible for this rapid rise in CRE cases, researchers say the bacteria itself is also becoming more virulent. Included in their findings was the discovery that CRE enzymes are now transmitting among bacteria more easily, which is further promoting disease transmission between long-term acute care facilities and community hospitals.
And the southeast isn't the only area threatened. According to the authors, the entire country is experiencing the makings of a "CRE epidemic," to quote the words of Dr. Thaden. And unless hospitals start take a more proactive approach to keeping their facilities clean -- the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) has suggested antimicrobial copper surfaces in hospital rooms as one viable solution -- more patients will suffer and die.
"This dangerous bacteria is finding its way into healthcare facilities nationwide," says Dr. Thaden. "Even this marked increase likely underestimates the true scope of the problem given variations in hospital surveillance practices. A CRE epidemic is fast approaching. We must take immediate and significant action in order to limit the transmission of these dangerous pathogens throughout our hospitals and acute care facilities."