Hand washing is the most basic, and most effective way of controlling drug-resistant "superbugs." Image: Flickr / kokopinto / CC-BY-SA

Some of the headlines are scary: “New superbug in California,” “Superbug kills 40 percent of those exposed,” “Nursing home incubating new CRKP Superbug.” Beyond these headlines, though, is a story of a relatively easily controlled bug that is doing serious damage.

The history of the CRKP superbug

Carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae (CRKP) is a bacteria that cannot be killed by any known antibiotic. The bug is usually found in hospitals, long-term care facilities and nursing facilities. Over seven months of 2010, L.A. county facilities reported 350 cases of CRKP. The infection is usually found in elderly patients, those who have taken long-term antibiotics and the infirm. Healthy individuals are rarely infected with CRKP, which has been reported around the world, from Israel to the East Coast of the U.S.

The danger of superbugs

The term “superbugs” usually describes bacteria that are resistant to known antibiotics. MERSA, Multiple Drug Resistant Tuberculosis, VRE, ESBLs and PRSP are all drug-resistant bacteria. These infections are especially dangerous because they can be incredibly difficult to treat. Effectively, superbugs take healthcare back to the days before antibiotics; the only hope is that the body can fight off the infection.

The CRKP superbug

Reports say that the new CRKP superbug is popping up in California. It is true that CRKP is a dangerous bug that can kill. About 40 percent of patients in Israel and the East Coast of the United States that contract CRKP eventually die of the infection or a related complication. The majority of CRKP infections come from hospitals and long-term care facilities, where drug-resistant bacteria tend to grow much more easily. The easiest and most effective way of controlling CRKP is very simple: hand washing. Hand washing in hospitals should be the most basic infection-control measure, but studies have shown that some hospitals have compliance rates as low as 40 percent. Some hospitals have implemented checklist systems, but no national standard yet exists to encourage or reward the simple steps that would reduce infections.

Sources

New York Times http://prescriptions.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/10/a-hospital-hand-washing-project-to-save-lives-and-money/

Business Insider http://www.businessinsider.com/map-of-the-day-carbapenem-resistant-enterobacteriaceae-cre-producing-metallo-beta-lactamases-2011-3#comment-4d8b9ac94bd7c86c72040000

CDC http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5810a4.htm

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