As a deadly infection, untreatable by nearly every antibiotic, spread through the National Institutes of Health’s Clinical Center last year, the staff resorted to extreme measures. They built a wall to isolate patients, gassed rooms with vaporized disinfectant and even ripped out plumbing. They eventually used rectal swabs to test every patient in the 234-bed hospital.
Still, for six months, as physicians fought to save the infected, the bacteria spread, eventually reaching 17 gravely ill patients. Eleven died, six from bloodstream superbug infections.
The outbreak of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as Klebsiella pneumoniae was not made public until Wednesday, when NIH researchers published a scientific paper describing the advanced genetic technology they deployed to trace the outbreak.
This was “the proverbial superbug that we’ve all worried about for a long time,” said Tara Palmore, an infection control specialist at the Bethesda hospital.
With some 99,000 U.S. deaths attributed to hospital-borne infections annually, the NIH outbreak provides a stark case study of the dangers of the latest wave of hospital-bred bacteria and the extreme measures hospitals must adopt to stem the rising superbug tide.
The NIH Clinical Center now screens every patient transferring from another facility for superbugs, tests every patient in the intensive care unit twice a week and screens every patient monthly…
“This was our introduction to [antibiotic-resistant] Klebsiella,” Palmore said. “We hoped we would never see it…”
Nationwide, about 6 percent of hospitals are battling outbreaks of the class of superbugs known as carbapenem-resistant bacteria, which includes Klebsiella, said Alexander Kallen of the CDC. These bacteria usually live harmlessly in our intestinal tracts, and they pose little or no threat to patients with healthy immune systems. But in patients with compromised immune systems, the bacteria can turn dangerous, gaining an enzyme that defeats even the most powerful antibiotics. That’s what happened at NIH.
The six patients who died of bloodstream Klebsiella infections had immune systems weakened by cancer, anti-rejection drugs given after organ transplants, and genetic disorders.
The CDC detected this type of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in 2000. “Since then, we’ve seen it spread across the country,” Kallen said, to 41 states.
Please read the whole article. Read the details of a wartime siege against this superbug. Understand why fiscal and political support is always needed to back up efforts by the NIH and CDC to muster programmatic assaults on disease vectors that can burn through a hospital population.
What took place in this hospital wasn’t that dramatic in terms of numbers – but, no less fatal and horrifying to the victims, to the friends and relatives of affected patients and staff. Please understand that what science we have at hand may not be sufficient, what public health procedures we presently enforce may be inadequate – only the dedication of more talent and funds will aid the fight against superbugs like this.