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Threat of ‘superbugs’ low in Eastern Sierra

March 25, 2013

Superbugs, or CREs, are a group of triple-threat bacteria which are resistant to nearly all kinds of antibiotics, fatal for nearly half of patients who are seriously infected and can spread their resistance to other bacteria. So far, CREs seem to be limited to hospitals and nursing homes and are most prevalent in densely populated areas. Photo courtesy Rocky Mountain Laboratories

With cases of infection by antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” on the rise nationwide, local health facilities are on standby – although they say the chances of cases developing in this area are very low.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are an increasing number of cases of new superbugs, a group of bacteria called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, which are not treatable with the strongest antibiotics currently available.
They are known as a triple threat because they’re resistant to nearly every kind of antibiotic, they kill half of people with serious infections and they can spread their resistance to other bacteria. About 4 percent of hospitals and 18 percent of long-term, acute-care hospitals have seen at least one case of CRE, according to the CDC.
The CDC is instructing healthcare facility staff to take steps to reduce the risk of infection using methods that range from as simple as frequent hand-washing, to as complex as the removal of intravenous tubes and catheters as soon as possible. The goal is to keep the CREs from spreading out into the community.
The good news is, CRE are not easily passed from person to person, said the CDC, like pink eye or strep throat.
As of the beginning of the month, CRE cases remain limited to hospitals and long-term acute-care facilities, like nursing homes, and are mostly found in patients with multiple and recurring medical problems, said Dr. Richard Johnson, public health officer for Inyo and Mono counties.
Johnson said, “We at Public Health are well aware of these risks, and constantly monitor the international, U.S., California and local status of the emergence and presence of these bugs.” Public Health also provides educational lectures and public health briefs to all the healthcare professionals, “whenever there are All specimens that go to local hospital labs are screened for all antibiotic sensitivity and multiple-drug resistant organisms, or MDROs, Johnson said. Johnson said that the most common bacteria found locally is MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. It is often found on the skin and in the nose, he said, and is commonly seen as a pimple or boil that requires no antibiotics. However, it can take on more serious proportions which require hospitalization.
Should a superbug case arise locally, both Northern Inyo and Mammoth hospitals have isolation rooms with negative airflow capability. NIH Director of Community Development, Marketing and Grant Writing Angie Aukee said that negative airflow entry ways are designed to keep airborne pathogens from escaping into the general population. NIH has two such rooms – ICU and Med/Surg.
Johnson said that Public Health is prepared, although “the impact locally has been minimal,” referring to the aforementioned MDROs. There have been no CRE cases reported locally, “partly because of low volume, partly because of low population density and partly because there are not a lot of high-risk ICU patients here.” Patients who require multiple hospitalizations or medical flights out to large facilities tend to move out of the area, he said.
The closest CRE cases are in highly and densely-populated counties in Southern California and Nevada and “not in the 20 or so small counties” like Inyo and Mono, Johnson said. Still, NIH is on standby under the direction of Director of Med/Surg and Infection Control Specialist Barbara Smith, as is Mammoth Hospital.significant new developments.”
Public Health is also “in frequent contact with the infection control specialists at all of our hospitals,” all of which have “vigorous infection control programs,” Johnson said.

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