Untreatable - 10 dangerous antibiotic-resistant infections

By Rhonwyn Newson

Staph bacteria are a leading cause of healthcare-associated infections. Photo / Thinkstock
Staph bacteria are a leading cause of healthcare-associated infections. Photo / Thinkstock

Every year, more than two million people in the United States get infections that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a result.

A report, Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, was issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late last year.

It presents a snapshot of the burden and threats posed by antibiotic-resistant infections.

1. Clostridium Difficile

Urgent threat

This bacteria causes life-threatening diarrhoea, mostly in hospitalised or recently hospitalised patients. The infections mostly occur in people who have recently had antibiotics. C. difficile is a special kind of threat, the CDC says, because while antibiotic resistance is not currently a problem, the bacteria spreads rapidly, especially when antibiotic use kills other beneficial bacteria in the gut.

This bacteria is naturally resistant to many drugs used to treat other infections. And, deaths are increasing due to a new, stronger strain of bacteria.

2. Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae

Urgent threat

These bacteria, known in the medical community as CRE, have become resistant to almost all of the antibiotics available today, even antibiotics of last resort. Almost half of hospital patients who contract bloodstream infections from CRE bacteria die from the infection.

3. Drug-Resistant Neisseria Gonorrhoeae

Urgent threat

This type of bacteria causes gonorrhea, an STD that results in discharge and inflammation of the urethra, cervix, pharynx or rectum. It is now showing resistance to the antibiotics used to treat it. This highly-contagious disease can cause severe reproductive complications. The CDC is now recommending a combination of antibiotics, including an injection, as the first line of treatment for gonorrhea.

4. Multidrug-Resistant Acinetobacter

Serious threat

This type of bacteria causes pneumonia and bloodstream infections in critically-ill patients, especially those on mechanical ventilators.

5. Drug-Resistant Campylobacter

Serious threat

Campylobacter usually causes diarrhoea, fever, and abdominal cramps, and sometimes causes serious complications such as temporary paralysis. This type of bacteria is now showing resistance to two commonly-used antibiotics, azithromycin and ciprofloxacin.

6. Fluconazole-Resistant Candida

Serious threat

Candidiasis is a fungal infection caused by yeasts of the genus Candida. There are more than 20 species of Candida yeasts that can cause infection in humans, the most common of which is Candida albicans. Candida is the fourth most common cause of healthcare-associated bloodstream infections in the United States. In some hospitals it is the most common cause. These infections tend to occur in the sickest of patients.

7. Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococcus (VRE)

Serious threat

Enterococci cause a range of illnesses, mostly among patients receiving healthcare, but include bloodstream infections, surgical site infections, and urinary tract infections. Some Enterococcus strains are resistant to vancomycin, an antibiotic of last resort, leaving few or no treatment options.

8. Extended Spectrum B-Lactamase (ESBL) Producing Enterobacteriaceae

Serious threat

Bacteria that contain an enzyme known as ESBL are resistant to strong antibiotics. In many cases, the only treatment option is an antibiotic of last resort, and use of these drugs is contributing to resistance. The presence of the ESBL enzyme means a patient is 57 percent more likely to die from a bloodstream infection.

9. Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA)

Serious threat

MRSA causes a range of illnesses, from skin and wound infections to pneumonia and bloodstream infections that can cause sepsis and death. Staph bacteria, including MRSA, are one of the most common causes of healthcare-associated infections.

10. Multidrug-Resistant Pseudomonas Aeruginosa

Serious threat

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a common cause of healthcare-associated infections including pneumonia, bloodstream infections, urinary tract infections, and surgical site infections. Some strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa have been found to be resistant to nearly all or all antibiotics.

Read the National Summary Data on Antibiotic Resistance in the US here:

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