"Nightmare Bacteria" With Rare Antibiotic Resistance Genes Found All Across America

E. coli is one such bacterium that is sometimes highly resistant to antiobiotics. Rattiya Thongdumhyu/Shutterstock

It’s pretty clear that one of the most troublesome problems facing civilization today is the rise and proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Last week’s case of the man who had contracted a seemingly untreatable case of gonorrhea is just one example of a colossal problem.

As noted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – antibiotic resistance bacteria kills 23,000 Americans per year. A new report by the agency also mentions that, in 2017, new nationwide testing for genes that confer this resistance found hundreds of examples of it in what they term “nightmare bacteria.”

Using the newly established Antibiotic Resistance Laboratory Network (ARLN) across the country, the CDC tested 5,776 samples of highly resistant germs over the course of 9 months. They were seeking signs of unusual resistance.

As noted in an accompanying press conference, they not only found that one in four bacteria had a gene that helps it spread its resistance; there were also 221 instances of an “especially rare resistance gene.”

One example of a so-called “nightmare bacteria” given by the report is Enterobacteriaceae, a widespread family of bacilli including, but not limited to, Escherichia coli. In this case, they’re building a strong resistance to carbapenems-class antibiotics, and their infections are deadly around 50 percent of the time. The World Health Organization (WHO) list this family of resistant bacteria as a Priority 1: Critical pathogen for which new antibiotics are desperately required.

The report adds that in 11 percent of screening tests, in people who were otherwise asymptomatic, the CDC found a difficult to treat pathogen that spreads between hosts and facilities easily. That makes it likely that several resistant pathogens are flying under the radar, so to speak.

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