Don't Panic Over This Latest 'Superbug' - Pacific Standard

Don't Panic Over This Latest 'Superbug'

If recent history is any indication, we're well-equipped for this scary new bacteria.
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Scanning electron micrograph of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which is very similar to this new "superbug." (Photo: NIAID/Wikimedia Commons)

Scanning electron micrograph of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which is very similar to this new "superbug." (Photo: NIAID/Wikimedia Commons)

This morning, the country was greeted with an uplifting New York Times story concerning another antibiotic-resistant “superbug.” This time, the “superbug” was found at the University of California-Los Angeles Medical Center, and may have resulted in two deaths and nearly 200 exposed patients.

“A total of 179 patients at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center were exposed to CRE during endoscopic procedures between October and January,” according to the Times. “The bacteria may have been a ‘contributing factor’ in the deaths of two patients.”

The bacteria in question in Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, which is very similar to the most well-known form of drug-resistant bacteria, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA, or staph. While this is, of course, a serious issue, it’s also well-trodden territory, and science has shown that we are more equipped than ever to deal with “superbug” flare-ups.

In 2013, our own Michael Fitzgerald penned a response to another New York Times article on this very same issue, noting that “versatile staph pathogen may be evolving ever more rapidly, but it isn’t necessarily infecting more widely.” Hospitals are better equipped than ever to ensure that their space is safe and clean, and that their air is well circulated. They're also "getting better at the little but important things, like making sure medical professionals wash their hands, or even better, wearing gloves,” Fitzgerald wrote.

Fitzgerald cited a 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that reveals a decline in MRSA. Specifically, the CDC estimated that 29,300 fewer cases of invasive MRSA infections occurred in the United States in 2010 than in 2005. The greatest declines, it noted, was in hospital-onset infections—the setting, obviously, of this most recent flare-up.

So while any type of bacteria that can thwart antibiotics is a serious issue, there’s no need for the public—or, perhaps more importantly, the media—to panic.*

*UPDATE — February 21, 2015: We originally referred to Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, as a virus; it is a type of bacteria.

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