Friday, August 24, 2012

“Superbug” at NIH Serves as Precautionary Tale

In the wake of a “superbug” that hit the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) clinical center last year, NAHAM News is looking at what prevention measures can be learned and passed on to other healthcare facilities.

According to a story published by the New York Times, there are “some 99,000 U.S. deaths attributed to hospital-borne infections annually.” The number of those deaths attributed to antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’ has been increasing since the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) detected the bacteria in 2000. “Since then, we’ve seen it spread across the country,” said Alexander Kallen of the CDC, “to 41 states.”

Specifically, Kallen reported that nationwide, “about 6 percent of hospitals are battling outbreaks of the class of superbugs known as carbapenem-resistant bacteria, which includes Klebsiella.”

Here’s the skinny of these bugs - These bacteria usually live harmlessly in the intestinal tract and pose little or no threat to patients with healthy immune systems. But, as happened at NIH, in patients with compromised immune systems, the bacteria can turn dangerous, gaining an enzyme that defeats even the most powerful antibiotics.

Later this year, the CDC is launching a program in 10 cities to watch for hospital-borne outbreaks of super-bugs. CDC staff will review hospital records, Kallen said, and hospital labs will be asked to report any antibiotic-resistant bacteria to the CDC.

When the bug hit the NIH, they built a wall in the ICU and moved the infected patients into a new, six-bed unit. Blood pressure cuffs and other reusable gear were tossed after one use. The hospital hired monitors to ensure doctors and nurses were donning gowns, gloves and masks and scrubbing their hands. Staff members took throat and rectal swabs from every patient in the hospital, tested equipment and plumbing, and even went so far as to rip out plumbing when the bug was found in the sink drain of a patient’s room.

The resources and funding to take these extreme precautions are typically not available, but the CDC still says that hospitals and long term care facilities such as nursing homes must be ever vigilant to slow the spread of these superbugs. Some basic methods of prevention are still effective, including constant hand-scrubbing and isolation of infected patients. Surveillance is also key to identifying effected patients.

Read the full New York Times story here.

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