When Hospitals Become Killers

Posted by M ws On Thursday, January 31, 2013 0 comments

In 2011, the lethal germ known as CRK—short for carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella—raced through the National Institutes of Health Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Antibiotics couldn't stop it. Infection-control precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could not contain it. Six patients died because of it, including a 16-year-old boy.

Last week, public-health researchers released alarming data in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology showing that the same germ that swept through the NIH is invading hospitals across the country. Researchers writing this month in another medical journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases, warn that CRK poses "a major threat to public health."

Since the discovery of CRK in 2000, it has been found predominantly in New York City and the mid-Atlantic region. But Los Angeles County, one of the few places where CRK is being tracked, detected 356 cases in the second half of 2012. "Upwards of fifty percent" of patients who contract CRK die, according to NIH researchers.

Klebsiella infections generally are treated with powerful antibiotics called carbapenems, but the Jan. 25 data reveal that increasingly this medical weapon of last resort is not working. Drug resistance in Klebsiella infections is up 4,500% since 2002—from 0.1% to 4.5%, and that's just among known cases. Medical institutions are clearly moving closer to a post-antibiotic era.

Current measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control will not control the spread of this germ, even when hospital personnel follow the measures meticulously. That was the stunning conclusion reached by NIH researchers.

The NIH outbreak began in June 2011 when a 43-year-old woman with lung disease was admitted to the medical center from a New York hospital. Her chart alerted NIH that she was carrying CRK, so medical staff immediately isolated her and wore gowns, gloves and masks when treating her. All CDC contact and isolation precautions were followed, researchers later confirmed.

The woman recovered and left the hospital. But after three weeks, a male cancer patient in the same hospital who had no contact with the woman came down with CRK. Ten days later, a female patient with an immune disease fell victim. Both died. Week after week, more patients were hit with CRK. Researchers traced every infection back to the germ introduced into the hospital by the 43-year-old woman.

CLICK HERE to read the rest of this entry by Betsy McCaughey in AWSJ.

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