How Does One Get Infected With a ‘Superbug’?

February 19, 2015 Updated: February 19, 2015

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Thursday of a “superbug” that is linked to the deaths of two people at a Los Angeles hospital.

Seven patients at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles were sickened with the drug-resistant bug, and at least 179 were exposed, health officials said.

And what exactly is a “superbug?”

Specifically, it’s Carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae, known as CRE, and it’s a family of germs that are found normally in the stomach but have become resistant to a type of antibiotics that include penicillin and amoxicillin.

“The term superbug, loosely defined, is a bacterial species that has developed or acquired the ability to resist the effects of several (or all) antibiotic therapies. When individuals suffer an infection caused by a superbug, physicians do not possess many tools to offer and are left in a situation akin to the pre-antibiotic era,” explains Dr. Amest A. Adalja, a senior associate with the Center for Health Security at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and School of Medicine,.

And should we all be worried?

“As the march of antibiotic resistance continue, superbugs will become more and more common. Curbing injudicious use of antibiotics for viral illnesses like the common cold are a major priority to control this problem as is fostering the development of new tools to combat bacterial illnesses,” Dr. Adalja tells Epoch Times.

Most healthy people don’t get CRE infections, and they occur mostly in patients who are at hospitals, nursing homes, or in similar settings, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Some CRE bacteria have become resistant to most available antibiotics. Infections with these germs are very difficult to treat, and can be deadly—one report cites they can contribute to death in up to 50% of patients who become infected,” says the CDC on its website.

On Thursday, the FDA issued a safety alert about CRE, saying it “is continuing to evaluate information about documented and potential infections from multiple sources, including medical device reports.”

The agency said the CRE outbreak is linked an endoscope, a common medical device, that may have been used at the UCLA hospital. An endoscope is a flexible tube that carries a camera or other equipment into a patient’s the body through the mouth.

“The FDA wants to raise awareness among health care professionals, including those working in reprocessing units in health care facilities, that the complex design of ERCP endoscopes (also called duodenoscopes) may impede effective reprocessing,” the FDA said.

The FDA said the problems with the devices isn’t only limited to the UCLA facility.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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