By Robert Preidt
FRIDAY, July 18, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Community hospitals in the southeastern United States have seen a fivefold increase in the number of cases of a dangerous drug-resistant superbug during the past five years, according to a new study.
The highly contagious bacteria are known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE).
CRE bacteria are resistant to most commonly used antibiotics and are considered "one of the three greatest threats to human health," according to the World Health Organization. CRE bacteria can cause infections in the urinary tract, lungs, blood and other areas. The death rate from CRE infections is nearly 50 percent.
The researchers found that almost all of the 305 CRE infections identified in the study were health care-related. Greater use of broad-spectrum antibiotics is one of the factors associated with the growing number of CRE infections. Another factor is increased transmission between long-term acute care facilities and community hospitals, according to the study authors.
Findings from the study are in the August issue of the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.
"This dangerous bacteria is finding its way into health care facilities nationwide. Even this marked increase likely underestimates the true scope of the problem given variations in hospital surveillance practices," co-lead author Dr. Joshua Thaden said in a Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America news release.
"A CRE epidemic is fast approaching. We must take immediate and significant action in order to limit the transmission of these dangerous pathogens [germs] throughout our hospitals and acute care facilities," he urged.
However, money and staffing shortages are among the challenges community hospitals have in preventing transmission of CRE, Dr. Christopher Pfeiffer noted in an accompanying commentary.
"CRE prevention and control could benefit from regional collaborative networks armed with knowledge and resources to assist individual facilities and coordinate between facilities," he wrote. Pfeiffer said this collaborative approach has been successful in controlling other antibiotic-resistant bacteria.