The Spread of Superbugs

superbugs on the riseThe U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just published a first-of-its-kind assessment of the threat the country faces from antibiotic-resistant organisms.

And the news is not good.  In fact it’s downright scary. The agency’s overall conservative assessment of the problem includes frightening statistics such as:

  • Each year, in the U.S., 2,049,442 illnesses caused by bacteria and fungi that are resistant to at least some classes of antibiotics
  • Each year, out of those illnesses, there are 23,000 deaths
  • Each year, those illnesses and deaths result in $20 billion of additional healthcare spending
  • Each year, an additional $35 billion lost to society in foregone productivity.

The report marks the first time the agency has provided hard numbers for the incidence, deaths and cost of all the major resistant organisms. It also represents the first time the CDC has ranked resistant organisms by how much and how imminent a threat they pose, using seven criteria:

  • health impact
  • economic impact
  • how common the infection is
  • how easily it spreads
  • how much further it might spread in the next 10 years
  • whether there are antibiotics that still work against it
  • whether things other than administering antibiotics can be done to curb its spread

antibiotic resistant bacteriaOut of that matrix, their top three “urgent” threats they identified were:

multi-drug-resistant-pseudomonas-aeruginosa-horizontal-galleryIn addition, the CDC identified 12 resistant bacteria and fungal infections which the agency dubs “serious” i.e., requiring “prompt and sustained action.”  They include the hospital-acquired infections  Acinetobacter, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococcus (VRE) ; the foodborne organisms CampylobacterSalmonella and Shigella; MRSACandida and TB.

The last category, “concerning” i.e., requiring “careful monitoring and prevention” includes rare but potent vancomycin-resistant staphylococcus aureus  (VRSA), as well as strains of streptococcus resistant to two different categories of drugs.

For each organism, the report explains why it is a public health threat, where the trends are headed, what actions the CDC is taking, and what it is important for health care institutions, patients and their families, and states and local authorities to do to help.

Commenting on the report, Ed Septimus MD, professor of internal medicine at Texas A&M Health Sciences Center in Houston says “It’s up to us to make the recommendations in this report happen. If we do nothing but say, ‘Here’s the problem,’ then the problem will continue to grow.”

Well said Doctor, well said.

SRxA-logo for web

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa – Washing at the Handwash!

A few years ago the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that about 1.7 million patients get a hospital acquired infection each year. Of these, 99,000 die. More recently they estimated that infections develop in about 1 to 3 out of every 100 patients who have surgery.

Separately, a new study just presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) found that preventing further complications in patients who develop infections after hip or knee replacement surgery could save the U.S. health-care system as much as $65 million a year.

Hardly surprising then, that the pressure is mounting to reduce hospital-acquired infections. Some of this is being driven by Medicare who has started reducing  payments for hospital readmissions.

Infection-prevention specialists are now focusing on new practices and products to minimize patient exposure from the environment as well as from medical procedures and surgical instruments.

For example, Baycrest Geriatric Healthcare System in Ontario, were able to reduce the rate of transmission for the staph infection MRSA by 82% over a 33-month period by bathing patients daily with germ-killing cloths.   The cloths are presoaked with a powerful antimicrobial agent – chlorhexidine gluconate, which reduces organisms on a patient’s skin and leaves a residue that lasts up to six hours.  Baycrest, also screens all patients on admission to determine if they are colonized with MRSA on the skin, indicating the organism is present on the body but not yet causing an infection.

Many other innovative  infection-prevention ideas were suggested at the APIC “film festival”, which featured short videos including music, drama, dance, humor and animation to promote adherence to best practices.

SRxA’s Word on Health particularly liked the winning video “Scrub-A-Dub Dub”, which features Jerry Herman a former patient from the All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, FL, along with his twin brother, Josie.

The 10-year-old, who spent several months in the ICU, almost totally paralyzed by Guillain-Barré Syndrome, reinforces proper hand-washing technique among staff, patients and families.

Can a hip-hop song improve health?  We think maybe it can.