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'Nightmare' Bacteria Spreading in U.S. Hospitals,

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Most CRE infections to date have been in patients who had prolonged stays in hospitals, long-term facilities and nursing homes, the report said.

The bacteria kill up to half the patients whose bloodstream gets infected and are easily spread from patient to patient on the hands of health-care workers, the CDC said.

Moreover, CRE bacteria can transfer their antibiotic resistance to other bacteria of the same type.

This problem is the result of the overuse of antibiotics, Siegel said. "The more you use an antibiotic, the more resistance is going to emerge," he said. "This is an indictment of the overuse of this class of antibiotic."

What's needed are new antibiotics, Siegel said, adding that pharmaceutical companies lack the financial motivation to develop them right now. "Eventually, there will be enough resistance so drug companies will have a financial incentive. In the meantime, lives can be lost," he said.

Added Dr. Ghinwa Dumyati, associate professor of medicine at the University of Rochester in New York: "At this time, our best prevention is detection and infection control. The incidence [of CRE] is low and we are looking to prevent it before it gets much higher and we cannot control it."

To beat back the spread of these bacteria, the CDC wants hospitals and other health-care facilities to take the following steps:

  • Enforce infection-control precautions.
  • Group together patients with CRE.
  • Segregate staff, rooms and equipment to patients with CRE.
  • Tell facilities when patients with CRE are transferred.
  • Use antibiotics carefully.

Additional funding of research and technology is critical to prevent and quickly identify CRE, the CDC said.

Countries where CRE is more common have had some success controlling it.

Israel, for example, worked to reduce CRE in its 27 hospitals, and CRE rates dropped by more than 70 percent. Some U.S. facilities and states have also seen similar reductions, the agency said.

"We have seen in outbreak after outbreak that when facilities and regions follow the CDC's prevention guidelines, CRE can be controlled and even stopped," Dr. Michael Bell, acting director of the CDC's Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, said in the news release. "As trusted health-care providers, it is our responsibility to prevent further spread of these deadly bacteria."

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