Deadly superbugs a concern for Arizona - Tucson News Now

Deadly superbugs a concern for Arizona

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

You go to the hospital to get better.  But what happens when it makes you worse?  A "the nightmare bacteria" is virtually unstoppable and it's spreading.

"Superbug" illnesses don't stop right away with an antibiotic.  The latest one has been seen in 42 states... Including right here in Arizona.

These superbugs have been around, but we're finding them more often and this latest one has killed hospital patients on the east coast.  We're not just talking about fighting off something like the flu.  It's called superbug because it's so deadly, with a 40-percent fatality rate.

"We are finding superbugs more frequently," said Dr. Sean Elliott, a pediatrician and the medical director for infection prevention in the UA Health Network.

First it was MRSA, now it's CRE, which is even more deadly, according to Centers for Disease Control.  Hospitals are where they worry most, even at UAMC.

"It is a big issue.  We have found numerous patients with CRE admitted to this hospital who are bringing it in from the community," Dr. Elliott said.  He's seen numerous infections resistant to antibiotics.

"That's the big concern with CRE, because right now, there are very few to maybe no effective antibiotics that are guaranteed to work," Dr. Elliott said.

With new bacteria being discovered and finding the right combination of treatments continuing to be a challenge, hospitals like UAMC control the spread by separating the riskiest patients from the rest.  And they control the use of antibiotics.

"At this health network, we practice antibiotic stewardship," Dr. Elliott said.

He explained that a service examines the prescriptions that physicians write, and seek to cut back on the use of antibiotics when possible.

"They then assess which antibiotic they're on.  If it is not the correct antibiotic, if it's too broad, 'too big a gun', if you will, then they contact the healthcare provider and make a recommendation, 'you can go down to this narrower spectrum, this more specific antibiotic,' which many times costs even less, and that will prevent this selective pressure from new bacteria," Dr. Elliott said. 

Without such efforts, and without further research, infections could continue to reach beyond the protection that antibiotics provide.  That's because antibiotics are part of the problem.  Using the same antibiotics over and over when they're not necessary makes bacteria that can resist them.

"We may have a disconnect between bad bugs and no drugs," Dr. Elliott said.

Right now, hospitals continue to control the spread of such infections.

"In our facility we've had it before but the patients have come in with them, so they have not acquired it through our facility," said Connie Moore, RN, an infection preventionist manager at UAMC.

Containing it is priority number one right now because there's nothing promising on the horizon for treating these potentially lethal infections.  At local intensive care units, cases of CRE, MRSA and others are isolated, and staff wear gloves and gowns.

Patients are bathed with special cleaners that kill bacteria days after the bath.  Wipes with the same treatment will soon be used.

"I feel they're good.  I feel they're going to prevent the spread of infections," Moore said.

"We've known about this type of organism for quite some time. It's out there, it's a lot more common than people may think," Dr. Elliott said.

But he added that new antibiotics are needed.  And the push for more efforts and more funding has not worked, which leaves us with new infections but old drugs.

"At some point in time, if this cycle continues, and if it continues to exceed drug discovery, then we will have organisms that we truly cannot treat. That's the big concern with CRE," Dr. Elliott said.

Click here for a map link for states who host superbugs.

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