A study finds a fivefold increase in superbug infection rate


Citrobacter freundii, one member of the Enterobacteriaceae family. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.


A recent study by Duke University Medical Center found that carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), a superbug with a mortality rate of nearly 50%, is on the rise.

Salmonella, E.coli, and the bubonic plague are all members of the larger Enterobacteriaceae family, characterized by their inability to retain the dye stains used to differentiate various bacterial species. CRE is a particularly lethal strain of Enterobacteriaceae noted for its resistance to carbapenem, a class of antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections.

Between 2008-2012, the study details, instances of CRE infections per 100,000 patient days spent within a hospital increased fivefold throughout the university’s infectious disease network. Unlike salmonella, which people typically come in contact with after eating unsafely prepared foods, CRE infections tend to occur within hospitals while patients are undergoing surgery or treatment for unrelated, pre-existing illnesses.

Patient days are commonly used as a determinative metric for the likelihood of a patient’s being exposed to a particular pathogen. Though the spike in reported cases of CRE were technically low — 1.4 infections for every 100,000 patient days, up from 0.26 infections — CRE is still considered to be deadly.

The Centers For Disease Control have been warning hospital officials about CRE and other superbacteria’s potential threat for the past two years, and Duke researchers suspect that their findings are actually low-ball figures due to a lack of universal testing methods.

Fortunately, the four-year jump in CRE reports does not necessarily mean that the bug is becoming more common. According to the researchers behind the study, it could be that the methods used to detect CRE have advanced at such a rate that diagnoses are becoming more frequent or that the new report is merely accounting for old infections that were previously overlooked.

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