A carbapenem-resistant bacterium claimed the life of an unnamed 70-year-old Nevada woman in August 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on January 13, 2017. The woman seemed to have contracted an infection of a strain of Klebsiella pneumoniae that is resistant to 26 different antibiotics, according to experiments done by researchers partnering with the CDC.
The woman, whose identity has not been revealed may have picked up the infection in India after suffering a femur fracture in the country two years earlier. Of the antibiotics she was resistant to included colistin, a so-called “last resort” antibiotic.
“It was tested against everything that’s available in the United States . . . and was not effective,” Alexander Kallen, a medical officer at the CDC, told STAT. “I think it’s concerning. We have relied for so long on just newer and newer antibiotics. But obviously the bugs can often [develop resistance] faster than we can make new ones.”
This was not the first case of a pan-resistant bacterial infection in the United States, and sterile procedures at the Reno hospital that treated the unnamed woman likely contained this particular infection, the CDC reported.
Experts are highly concerned. “It’s possible that this is the only person in the U.S. and she had the bad luck to go to India, pick up the bad bug, come back and here it is, we found her and now that she’s dead, it’s gone from the U.S.,” James Johnson, a professor of infectious disease medicine at the University of Minnesota, told STAT. “That is highly improbable.”
“It’s not so unusual for someone to die of Klebsiella pneumoniae. That’s a common pathogen in our hospitals, but what was unusual about this one is that it was resistant to all 26 different antibiotics that we have,” says Lance Price, who founded the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at George Washington University two years ago.
Humans can host some of the worst superbugs, like Klebsiella, E.coli and Staphylococcus aureus, without showing symptoms. And they can be passed around without our knowledge. It means that the superbug that killed the woman from Nevada is likely somewhere in the U.S. right now.
Four other patients were treated in the US for antibiotic resistance in 2016.
According to a U.K. report released in May and chaired by economist Jim O’Neill, antibiotic resistant bacteria could kill ten million people a year by 2050 if left unchecked, that’s roughly one every three seconds. The report also says if antibiotics continue to lose their sting, resistant infections will sap $100 trillion from the world economy over the next 33 years. These predictions only account for infection-related deaths, not for procedures that are only safe or possible because of antibiotics, such as hip and joint replacements, gut surgeries, C-sections, chemotherapy and organ transplants.
“If we’re waiting for some sort of major signal that we need to attack this internationally, we need an aggressive program, both domestically and internationally to attack this problem, here’s one more signal that we need to do that,” said Lance Price.
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