B.C. health officials warn against latest drug-resistant bacteria called CRE

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew
Health officials say a deadly bacteria called CRE is antibiotic resistant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the bacteria kills up to half of patients who are infected.

The rise of drug-resistent germs has turned our once rosy image of hospitals as a place of healing on its head.

Hospital-acquired infections such as C-difficile have come under closer scrutiny in recent years, with institutions working to improve hygiene to protect vulnerable patients.

The latest superbug to worry health officials is Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, CRE for short, which B.C. medical authorities say is threatening Canadian hospitals from south of the border.

The CRE bacteria apparently originates overseas but has begun showing up in North American hospitals, the Vancouver Province reports.

"CRE are nightmare bacteria," Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), told the Province. "Our strongest antibiotics don’t work and patients are left with potentially untreatable infections."

[ Related: Hospitals urged to do more to fight superbug spread ]

Frieden, whose agency issued the initial warning about CRE, said more than 200 U.S. hospitals and long-term acute care facilities reported cases of CRE in the first half of 2012.

NBC News reported recently that four per cent of U.S. acute-care hospitals and 18 per cent of long-term acute care institutions reported at least one case of CRE last year.

"Doctors, hospital leaders and public health must work together now to implement CDC's 'detect and protect' strategy and stop these infections from spreading," Frieden said.

British Columbia already has special protocols in place to deal with sick patients who've come from Greece, Israel and the Indian subcontinent, Bruce Gamage, manager of the province's Infection Control Network, told the Province.

"We are now asking people whether they’ve been in a hospital in the U.S.," Gamage said. "If so, there are protocols in place."

The countermeasures include keeping patients in their rooms and garbing anyone who goes in with gowns and gloves, he said.

"We stress handwashing, to ensure it doesn't get spread around the hospital," Gamage added.

British Columbia saw it's first CRE case in 2008, Dr. Linda Hoang of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control said. But so far there have been no proven cases of the bacteria spreading from one patient to another.

[ Related: Fecal transplants cure most cases of C. difficile, first clinical trial shows ]

"Knock on wood," said Hoang. "Currently we are not in the same situation as in the U.S."

Medical tourism, where people travel abroad to have expensive medical procedures done more cheaply, is partly to blame for the spread of CRE, Hoang told the Province.

Bacteria that resist even the most potent antibiotics have become a seminal threat to health care worldwide because of overuse.

The Toronto Star noted in a January article that concern over drug resistance dates almost from the discovery of penicillin. As long ago as 1945, Alexander Fleming, the wonder drug's discoverer, warned it should be used sparingly to slow resistance.