Start of 'post-antibiotic' era?

Common bacteria on verge of becoming superbugs

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Bacteria that cause many hospital-associated infections are ready to quickly share genes that allow them to resist powerful antibiotics. The illustration, based on electron micrographs and created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows one of these antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Antibiotic resistance is poised to spread globally among bacteria implicated in respiratory and urinary infections in hospital settings, according to new research.

Two genes that confer resistance against a particularly strong class of antibiotics can be shared among a family of bacteria responsible for a
significant portion of hospital-associated infections, the study shows.

Drug-resistant germs recently infected several patients at two Los Angeles hospitals. The infections have been linked to medical scopes possibly contaminated with bacteria resistant to carbapenems, potent antibiotics for use only in gravely ill patients or those infected by resistant bacteria.

“Carbapenems are one of our last resorts for treating bacterial infections, what we use when nothing else works,” said senior author Gautam Dantas, PhD, associate professor of pathology and immunology. “Given what we know now, I don’t think it’s overstating the case to say that for certain types of infections, we may be looking at the start of the post-antibiotic era, a time when most of the antibiotics we rely on to treat bacterial infections are no longer effective.”

Dantas and others recommend limiting the usage of carbapenems to cases in which no other treatments can help.

Dantas and others recommend limiting the usage of carbapenems to cases in which no other treatments can help.

The study, conducted by researchers at Washington University, Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the National University of Sciences and Technology in Pakistan, is
available online in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The researchers studied a family of bacteria called Enterobacteriaceae, which includes E. coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Enterobacter. Some strains of these bacteria do not cause illness and can help keep the body healthy. But in people with weakened immune systems, infections with carbapenem-resistant versions of these bacteria can be deadly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae as one of the three most urgent threats among emerging forms of antibiotic-resistant disease. Studies have shown the fatality rate for these infections is above 50 percent in patients with weakened immune systems.

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Dantas Lab