This Superbug Is Resistant To Everything And Has Already Killed Someone In America

Life & Culture Editor
01.13.17

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In mid-2016, we asked a question: Is a superbug resistant to everything about to hit American shores? And would it turn all of us into zombies, intent on wandering slowly through the wasteland and craving brains? While the second question hasn’t been answered to our satisfaction yet, the first one has. A superbug that’s resistant to all known antibiotics is here and one Nevada woman has already succumbed to it.

STAT reports that the woman went into the hospital in August and died in September, after doctors exhausted all options in trying to save her. The infection fought off all 26 antibiotics that doctors tried, and if you’re wondering why they didn’t try more, the answer is simple: That’s all we have available in America.

Starting to sound a little bit like Contagion yet?

In the woman’s case, the specific bacteria attacking her was called Klebsiella pneumoniae, a bug that often causes of urinary tract infections.

Testing at the hospital showed resistance to 14 drugs – all the drug options the hospital had, said Lei Chen, a senior epidemiologist with Washoe County Health District and an author of the report. “It was my first time to see a [resistance] pattern in our area,” she said.

A sample was sent to the CDC in Atlanta for further testing, which revealed that nothing available to US doctors would have cured this infection. Kallen admitted people in this field experience a sinking feeling when they’re faced with a superbug like this one.

Yeah, that sounds like a real bummer for everyone (especially the patient, who probably had to come to terms with the fact that she’d “lived a good life” and would soon be shuffling off this mortal coil) and while the fact that this woman died shouldn’t alarm you, it should be something you file away in that list of concerns you have. Particularly because Dr. James Johnson, an expert in infectious diseases, has referred to this incident as “the harbinger of future badness to come.” If that’s not a sign that 2017 could be terrifying — remember, gonorrhea may go incurable this year, too — then we don’t know what is.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s that hospitals need to do a better job of vetting patients when they come in. STAT notes that the victim in this case had spent a great deal of time in India, where she’d broken her femur. She’d subsequently developed infections and had been hospitalized several times to have them treated. Because there are more drug-resistant bacteria in India than there are in the US, experts are saying that this should be a wake-up call in terms of asking patients about foreign travel and hospitalizations in other countries.

While it’s possible that this woman’s infection was the only one of its kind in America, Johnson told STAT that that’s highly improbable and that there are likely others (possibly many others?) who are carrying the same bacteria without even knowing it.

“People have asked me many times ‘How scared should we be?’ … ‘How close are we to the edge of the cliff?’ And I tell them: We’re already falling off the cliff,” Johnson said. “It’s happening. It’s just happening – so far – on a relatively small scale and mostly far away from us. People that we don’t see … so it doesn’t have the same emotional impact.”

Stay safe! Wash your hands! (It may not kill the bug that brings on the apocalypse, but at least it’s something!)

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