The medical community expressed alarm over a case in Nevada involving an elderly woman who died from a superbug infection. Doctors could not keep the infection from spreading, and later determined she was infected with the superbug CRE. This case is a reminder that superbug infections could become the most serious patient safety threat of the 21st century.
Doctors at the Nevada hospital that treated the woman sent samples of the bacteria to the Centers for Disease Control. According to officials at the CDC, the bacteria underwent testing against all antibiotics available to doctors in the United States. All 26 antibiotics failed to kill the superbug.
An investigation into this case revealed the woman had spent an extended period of time in India. At one point during the trip, she broke her right femur and developed a bone infection in her femur. She underwent treatment multiple times at hospitals in India. Superbug infections are more prevalent at hospitals abroad, and it is not uncommon for Americans to bring antibiotic-resistant bacteria home. Authors of the CDC report on this case argue hospitals need to ask patients about foreign travel during intake, and whether they have been hospitalized elsewhere.
How Dangerous Are Superbug Infections?
According to the United Nations, which held a meeting on antibiotic resistance last year, superbugs could kill 10 million people annually by 2050 if we continue on our current course. Common medical treatments like chemotherapy may no longer be safe (chemotherapy weakens the immune system). Infections after surgery could become much more common. At the moment, superbugs kill 700,000 people per year, including 23,000 in the US.
Superbugs are the ultimate patient safety threat. There are no other threats that could potentially kill tens of millions of people within the next several decades. Researchers and public health officials are working around-the-clock to find solutions for halting the spread of deadly superbugs.
In the meantime, hospitals have an obligation to practice effective sanitation procedures. A failure to do so may constitute medical malpractice.