The CDC’s website states that “more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the US each year, and more than 35,000 people die as a result.” And a CDC news release states, “on average, someone in the United States gets an antibiotic-resistant infection every 11 seconds and every 15 minutes someone dies.”
Those are huge numbers.
Clinical laboratory leaders and microbiologists have learned to be vigilant as it relates to dangerously infectious antimicrobial-resistant agents that can result in severe patient harm and death. Therefore, new threats identified in the CDC’s Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States report will be of interest.
Drug-resistant Microbes That Pose Severe Risk
The CDC has added the fungus Candida auris (C. auris) and carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter (a bacteria that can survive for a long time on surfaces) to its list of “urgent threats” to public health, CDC said in the news release. These drug-resistant microbes are among 18 bacteria and fungi posing a greater threat to patients’ health than CDC previously estimated, Live Science reported.
The CDC considers five threats to be urgent. Including the
latest additions, they are:
Acinetobacter Threat Increases and C. auris
a New Threat since 2013
Carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter, a bacterium that
causes pneumonia and bloodstream and urinary tract infections, escalated from
serious to urgent in 2013. About 8,500 infections and 700 deaths were noted by the
CDC in 2017.
C. auris, however, was not addressed in the 2013
report at all. “It’s a pathogen that we didn’t even know about when we wrote
our last report in 2013, and since then it’s circumvented the globe,” said Michael
Craig, Senior Adviser for the CDC’s Antibiotic Resistance Coordination and
Strategy Unit, during a news conference following the CDC announcement, Live
Today, C. auris is better understood. The fungus
resists emerging drugs, can result in severe infections, and can be transmitted
between patients, CDC noted.
Sepsis increased by 40% among hospitalized Medicare patients
from 2012 through 2018, HHS reported.
“These (untreatable infections) are happening here and now in the United States in large numbers. This is isn’t some developing world thing. This isn’t a threat for 2050. It’s a threat for here and now,” Cornelius “Neil” Clancy, MD, Associate Chief of Veterans Affairs Pittsburg Health System (VAPHS) and Opportunistic Pathogens, told STAT.
It is troubling to see data about so many patient deaths
related to antibiotic-resistant infections and sepsis cases when the world is
transfixed by the Coronavirus. Nevertheless, it’s important that medical laboratory
leaders and microbiologists keep track of how the US healthcare system is or is
not responding to these new infectious agents. And, to contact infection
control and environmental services colleagues to enhance surveillance, ensure
safe healthcare environments and equipment, and adopt appropriate strategies to
prevent antibiotic-resistant infections.
As infectious bacteria become even more resistant to antibiotics, chronic disease patients with weakened immune systems are in particular danger
laboratory managers in the United States may find it useful to learn that
exceptionally virulent strains of bacteria are causing increasing numbers of cancer
patient deaths in India. Given the speed with which infectious diseases spread
throughout the world, it’s not surprising that deaths due to similar hospital-acquired
infections (HAIs) are increasing in the US as well.
Recent news reporting indicates that an ever-growing number
of cancer patients in the world’s second most populous nation are struggling to
survive these infections while undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments for
In some ways, this situation is the result of more powerful antibiotics. Today’s modern antibiotics help physicians, pathologists, and clinical laboratories protect patients from infectious disease. However, it’s a tragic fact that those same powerful drugs are making patients with chronic diseases, such as cancer, more susceptible to death from HAIs caused by bacteria that are becoming increasingly resistant to those same antibiotics.
India is a prime example of that devastating dichotomy. Bloomberg
reported that a study conducted by Abdul
Ghafur, MD, an infectious disease physician with Apollo Hospitals in Chennai, India,
et al, concluded that “Almost two-thirds of cancer patients with a
carbapenem-resistant infection are dead within four weeks, vs. a 28-day
mortality rate of 38% in patients whose infections are curable.”
This news should serve as an alert to pathologists, microbiologists,
and clinical laboratory leaders in the US as these same superbugs—which resist
not only antibiotics but other drugs as well—may become more prevalent in this
‘We Don’t Know
What to Do’
The dire challenge facing India’s cancer patients is due to escalating
bloodstream infections associated with carbapenem-resistant
enterobacteriaceae (CRE), a particularly deadly bacteria that has become
resistant to even the most potent carbapenem antibiotics, generally
considered drugs of last resort for dealing with life-threatening infections.
Lately, the problem has only escalated. “We are facing a
difficult scenario—to give chemotherapy and cure the cancer and get a
drug-resistant infection and the patient dying of infections.” Ghafur told Bloomberg.
“We don’t know what to do. The world doesn’t know what to do in this scenario.”
Ghafur added, “However wonderful the developments in the
field of oncology, they are not going to be useful, because we know cancer
patients die of infections.”
The problem in India, Bloomberg reports, is
exacerbated by contaminated food and water. “Germs acquired through ingesting
contaminated food and water become part of the normal gut microbiome, but they can
turn deadly if they escape the bowel and infect the urinary tract, blood, and
other tissues.” And chemotherapy patients, who likely have weakened digestive
tracts, suffer most when the deadly germs reach the urinary tract, blood, and surrounding
“Ten years ago, carbapenem-resistant superbug infections
were rare. Now, infections such as carbapenem-resistant klebsiella bloodstream
infection, urinary infection, pneumonia, and surgical site infections are a
day-to-day problem in our (Indian) hospitals. Even healthy adults in the
community may carry these bacteria in their gut in Indian metropolitan cities;
up to 5% of people carry these superbugs in their intestines,” Ghafur told The
“These patients receive chemotherapy during treatment, which
lead to severe mucositis
of gastrointestinal tract and myelosuppression.
It was hypothesized that the gut colonizer translocate into blood circulation
causing [bloodstream infection],” the AIIMS paper states.
US Cases of C. auris Also Linked to CRE
Deaths in the US involving the fungus Candida auris (C. auris)
have been linked to CRE as well. And, people who were hospitalized outside the
US may be at particular risk.
The CDC reported on
a Maryland resident who was hospitalized in Kenya with a
carbapenemase-producing infection, which was later diagnosed as C. auris. The CDC
describes C. auris as “an emerging drug-resistant yeast of high public concern
… C auris frequently co-occurs with carbapenemase-producing organisms like
Drug-resistant germs are a public health threat that has
grown beyond overuse of antibiotics to an “explosion of resistant fungi,”
reported the New
York Times (NYT).
The NYT article states that “Nearly half of patients
who contract C. auris die within 90 days, according to the CDC. Yet the world’s
experts have not nailed down where it came from in the first place.”
Cases of C. auris in the US are showing up in New York, New
Jersey, and Illinois and is arriving on travelers from many countries,
including India, Pakistan, South Africa, Spain, United Kingdom, and
Since antibiotics are used heavily in agriculture and
farming worldwide, the numbers of antibiotic-resistant infections will likely
increase. Things may get worse, before they get better.
Pathologists, microbiologists, oncologists, and clinical
laboratories involved in caring for patients with antibiotic-resistant
infections will want to fully understand the dangers involved, not just to
patients, but to healthcare workers as well.