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Nightmare bacteria

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Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) bacteria CDC via Getty Images
 “Nightmare bacteria” with the power to resist most antibiotics are popping up across the U.S., but new, aggressive policies can help stop them from spreading, federal health officials said Tuesday.

A new program for testing suspect bacteria turned up unusual antibiotic-resistance genes 221 times in 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. And 11 percent of people screened for these superbugs carried them, even though they had no symptoms, the CDC said.

“CDC’s study found several dangerous pathogens, hiding in plain sight, that can cause infections that are difficult or impossible to treat,” said the CDC’s Dr. Anne Schuchat. “While they are appearing all over the place, an aggressive approach can snuff them out.”

Antibiotic-resistant germs kill more than 23,000 Americans a year.

They evolve quickly, developing mutations that let them evade the effects of antibiotics. If they are not stopped fast, they spread. Worse, the antibiotic-resistant DNA can be carried in little cassettes of genetic material called plasmids that bacteria can slip in their entirety to one another and to other species of bacteria.

It’s already happened several times in the U.S. — and when one superbug gives new powers to a different superbug, the result can be an infection that is impossible to treat.

CARRYING GERMS, WITHOUT ANY SYMPTOMS

The results were sobering. One in four of the samples sent in carried superbug genes, the CDC team reported. When the facilities involved looked further, they found 11 percent of seemingly unaffected people screened carried such germs without having any symptoms.

“This means the germ could have spread undetected in that health care facility,” the CDC said.

 

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