Superbug Resistant To 26 Antibiotics Is Sparking Important Conversations About Treatment

What can we do to be safer?

Most of us have experienced the "magic" of antibiotics. We have some bug or infection, take the antibiotics, and poof! Soon we are all better. While it seems like the power of antibiotics is timeless, we shouldn't get attached to our treatments so fast. 

Over time, scientists have seen bugs evolve to be antibiotic resistant, making antibiotics less effective. One of the more shocking instances of this happening was when a 70-year-old woman from Nevada died from a superbug, or a carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) called "Klebsiella pneumonia." The woman had previously been hospitalized in India several times before going to a hospital in Reno in August of 2016. She passed away the following month due to sepsis and multiple organ failure, and her death was recorded in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).



She had a superbug that was resistant to all 26 antibiotics available in the United States.

STAT points out that though a case like this in the U.S. is very rare, this isn't the first time someone has been infected by pan-resistant bacteria (a bacteria resistant to all available antibiotics). The CDC estimates that approximately 23,000 people die every year from multi-drug-resistant infections. 

What separates the Nevada case from the rest, is that the woman's bug was discovered early enough that all of the different antibiotic treatment possibilities could be looked at.

Her case has people asking many questions, including “What does this mean?” and “What do we do?”

Pixus I Shutterstock
Pixus I Shutterstock

Dr. James Johnson, professor of infectious diseases medicine at the University of Minnesota, told NPR that antibiotics need to be used more wisely in animals and humans so resistance is reduced. This is especially important for new drugs in development. "We do have some new drugs coming along, so there's hope," he explained, "but we have to use them selectively, not willy-nilly."

Many are also citing the importance of asking patients' travel history when they are admitted for care to get a better understanding of their situation and to be alert for resistant bacteria — especially if patients have travelled to countries where resistant bacteria is more common. It is also important in cases where patients need to be quarantined.

Fortunately, action is being taken to make people safer. The Huffington Post reports that the World Health Organization launched a global action plan in November 2015 to raise awareness of antimicrobial resistance, and to invest in research to ensure the proper use of antimicrobial medicines. 

People can also educate themselves about antibiotics and superbugs.

There are still many misconceptions about antibiotics, and this is partly why campaigns like World Antibiotic Awareness Week exist. 

It is also important to realize that bacteria resistant to all antimicrobials, as with the Nevada case, are not very common. "Of the more than 250 carbapenem-resistant bacteria samples they have tested so far, 80 percent could be controlled with at least one aminoglycoside (another class of antibiotics) and 90 percent were susceptible to tigecycline, an antibiotic that is effective against drug-resistant bacteria," reports The Huffington Post.

Check out the video below to find out more about antibiotic resistance and how scientists are dealing with it:

Cover image via Pixus I Shutterstock

(H/T: Scientific American)

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