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Friday
Mar252011

Deadly Antibiotic-Resistant Superbug Spreads in Southern California

ABC News(LOS ANGELES) -- An antibiotic-resistant superbug once thought to be rare is spreading through health-care facilities in Southern California, health officials say.

Roughly 350 cases of Carbapenem-Resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae, or CRKP, were been reported in Los Angeles County between June and December of 2010, according to a study from the L.A. County Department of Public Health to be presented April 3 in Dallas at the annual meeting of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.

"These patients tend to be elderly, they are commonly on ventilators and they often stay at the facility for an extended period of time," Dr. Dawn Terashita, medical epidemiologist and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

CRKP joins other superbugs such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, in a league of bacteria that outwits typical antibiotics.

"We develop new drugs to defeat the infections and germs change to get around those drugs and this is one of those cases," Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News chief health and medical editor, said Friday.  Besser is a former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It's like an arms race and in many ways the germs are winning," he said.

CRKP is not new to California, or the rest of the country for that matter.  The Centers for Disease Control has been tracking it across 35 states since 2009.  It is young, however, compared to MRSA, according to Dr. Arjun Srinivasan, associate director of the CDC's health care-associated, infection-prevention programs.

"But in terms of mortality and morbidity, it's very, very serious," Srinivasan said.  "These infections are more difficult to treat than MRSA."

CRKP is an enterobacterium like salmonella and E. coli.

It is unclear how many cases of the 350 reported by Terashita and colleagues were fatal.  It is also unclear whether the infections stemmed from improper care at long term-care facilities or the frailty of the patients they serve.  But Terashita said infected patients tended to have health problems that often resulting in antibiotic use, which might have made them more susceptible.

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ABC News Radio