healthHealth and Medicine

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


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

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.


“While antibiotic resistance (AR) threats vary nationwide, AR has been found in every state,” the report stresses. “And unusual resistance germs, which are resistant to all or most antibiotics tested and are uncommon or carry special resistance genes, are constantly developing and spreading.”

The point of this post isn’t to scare, though. Much like the WHO’s perhaps misplaced use of the term “disease X” – a hypothetical infection that could turn into a pandemic – this information is designed to inform us that the authorities are aggressively and pre-emptively preparing for AR outbreaks across the country.

The spread of AR bacteria is compared to a wildfire: difficult to control after it begins to spread. While researchers are working on ways to develop new antibiotics, and while society attempts to use fewer antibiotics in the first place, the CDC suggests containment is the best option.

“Finding and responding to unusual resistance earlier, before it becomes common, can help stop its spread and protect people,” the post explains. They then outline their containment strategy, which includes several key pillars:


1 – Interagency Cooperation: The CDC is working with federal agencies to identify and stem outbreaks, but they note this is only possible if Congress continues to provide them with resources.

2 – Rapid Identification: The CDC, and healthcare facilities, remain “on alert” for signs of AR.

3 – Use Infection Control Assessments and Colonization Screenings: Prevent it from spreading in every way possible.

As for the individual, they suggest that you get recommended vaccines, take care of any chronic conditions, educate yourself on preventative measures, practice good hygiene, keeping cuts clean until healed, and so forth.


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