CDC warns hospitals about 'nightmare bacteria' that could kill patients

Bacteria spreading, resistant to most anti-biotics

DENVER - The Centers for Disease Control is warning hospitals to take action against what it calls a "nightmare bacteria" that could kill patients.

Health officials say the bacteria, known as CRE, has been spreading more over the past decade. It's resistant to even the strongest antibiotics and it can kill up to half of patients who contract it.

The CDC says so far, it's only been found in hospitals and nursing homes, and it's not that common. They warn, however, it could get even more dangerous if it keeps spreading.

They want to stop it now.

"I think there's a level of awareness that we should be looking at things," said Michelle Barron, medical director of infection, prevention and control at University of Colorado Hospital. "We are doing our best to keep it out of this hospital. On a daily basis, we look at these culture results in the lab and start identifying if there's patterns of resistance that worry us."

Dr. Barron said Wednesday people use antibiotics too frequently, and that lack of discrimination is likely allowing bacteria to morph and become more drug-resistant.

"Antibiotic use is probably something that's contributed to a lot of the resistance that we see, and maybe the end result of why we're seeing this now," she said. "Exposing your body to antibiotics on a frequent basis sort of allows these bacteria to adapt."

"In these normally, friendly, less-resistant bacteria that we've taken for granted, that we can always treat, now we're seeing some of these infections become untreatable," said Dr. Connie Price, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Denver Health.

Price said Denver Health is proactively screening patients for the bacteria.

"Looking for these organisms upon admission," said Price.

So far, Denver Health has had no instances of the bacteria.

One doctor in California suggested this surge in the bacteria is similar to the ill-fated Titanic. He said, "We're not talking about an iceberg that's down the line. The ship has hit the iceberg. We're taking on water. We already have people dying. Not only of CRE, but of untreatable CRE."

"We don't have to be the Titanic," said Price. "There is time to reverse this."

Doctors said treating the bug once it enters your system is tough, but keeping it out is relatively easy.

Just like other bacteria, it can easily be killed on surfaces by using disinfecting wipes and washing your hands.

Doctors said these bugs can transfer their invincibility to other bacteria as well, like E-Coli, making something like a common urinary tract infection a potentially deadly problem.

Although the resistant bacteria pose a risk to anyone, people whose immune systems are weaker, such as the elderly and children, tend to be most susceptible.