Last year, doctors in the United States were unable to treat a patient infected with a bacterial strain that was resistant to 26 different antibiotics. After subjecting the bacteria to multiple tests, the doctors found it to be “resistant to all available antimicrobial drugs”, and the 70-year-old patient unfortunately died from the infection.
Detailed in a newly released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, the case highlights the significant threat that the emergence of highly resistant bacteria is becoming to global public health. The woman in the report was initially admitted to a hospital in Reno, Nevada, after she had returned from an extended trip to India with an infected swelling in her right hip.
After doctors conducted tests, they found she was infected with a form of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae known as Klebsiella pneumoniae. Normally living in the gut without causing any issues, K. pneumoniae is opportunistic in its infection. It seems that in the case of the woman in this latest report, the infection entered the bone after a femur fracture in India, and then subsequently spread to her hip.
By the time she arrived at the hospital in Reno, the infection had spread, causing inflammation throughout her body as her immune system tried to tackle the particularly virulent strain. But after a raft of tests found that it was resistant to all antibiotics currently available for use in the United States, the patient eventually succumbed to septic shock and died.
Worryingly, however, it is unlikely that she contracted the highly resistant bacteria in the US. With the amount of time she spent in India, and the extended periods she spent hospitalized over there during the preceding two years, the authors of the report suggest that she probably picked up the infection abroad. These so called “superbugs” are becoming increasingly common in India, and with the relative ease that people can now travel, the threat of the bacteria spreading is also increasing.
The report recommends that medical practitioners pay more attention to where patients may have been treated previously and to conduct tests accordingly. While this is not the first case of highly resistant bacteria being found in the States, it is still a rare occurrence.
That being said, the discovery of new antibiotics has tailed off over the last few decades as the number of resistant strains has increased, leading many to predict that we are entering a post-antibiotic era.