Health officials are reporting that a 70-year old woman in Reno, Nevada died last year from an infection resistant to all types of antibiotics. This is part of an alarming trend that has seen the amount of deaths caused by antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria rise dramatically.
“It was tested against everything that’s available in the United States … and was not effective,” said Dr. Alexander Kallen, a medical officer in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s division of health care quality promotion.
Doctors attempted to treat the incurable infection with a variety of antibiotics but the bacteria was” resistant to all available antimicrobial drugs.” The woman was admitted to a hospital in Reno with a swelling in her right hip after returning to the United States following a two-year stint in India. During her time abroad she had broken her femur, the big thigh bone, and contracted a bone infection in her femur and hip, which led to multiple hospitalizations in that period.
After her arrival back in the US, she visited a hospital in mid-August where it was confirmed she was infected with CRE — carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae. This is a general term used to describe bacteria that normally lives in the gut, and has become resistant to the carbapenem class of antibacterial drugs. In this case, the specific bacteria was Klebsiella pneumoniae – a bug that normally causes urinary tract infections. She died from sepsis after being given 26 types of antibiotic.
What causes these bacteria to develop resistance? According to the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics (APUA) at Tufts University, it happens naturally: when an antibiotic is used (either a synthetic one created by humans, or antibiotics made by bacteria themselves), certain bacteria are immune, whereas others are susceptible and are killed off. Think of it like Darwin’s theory of natural selection; it’s survival of the fittest.
However, most of these antibiotic-resistant bacteria are created through overuse, says the site: “the current higher-levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are attributed to the overuse and abuse of antibiotics. In some countries and over the Internet, antibiotics can be purchased without a doctor’s prescription.” Often times, patients feel the desire to be proactive in sickness, and pressure doctors to prescribe them antibiotics to fight off viral illnesses like the common cold.
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published research last year showing that a third of all antibiotics prescribed are completely unnecessary.
“It’s possible that this is the only person in the US 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 US,” said Dr. James Johnson, a professor of infectious diseases medicine at the University of Minnesota and a specialist at the Minnesota VA Medical Center, before adding “That is highly improbable.”
“People have asked me many times ‘How scared should we be?’ … ‘How close are we to the edge of the cliff?’ And I tell them: We’re already falling off the cliff,” Johnson said. “It’s happening. It’s just happening — so far — on a relatively small scale and mostly far away from us. People that we don’t see … so it doesn’t have the same emotional impact.’”
According to the CDC’s 2013 report, “Antibiotic Resistant Threats in the US” 23,000 people a year die from antibiotic-resistant infections.
What’s the solution? The APUA says it’s possible for the natural order to be restored, but it takes time. By removing antibiotics, “the bacterial population can potentially revert to a population of bacteria that responds to antibiotics.”
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