You know how reading the news sometimes makes you wish you were illiterate? Yeah, this is one of those days. Last week, a Nevada woman died while undergoing treatment in a Las Vegas hospital. While her cause of death was officially ruled as a bacterial infection, some medical professionals are calling the woman’s death a potential warning shot in the upcoming war against unstoppable superbugs. The bacteria responsible for the woman’s death belongs to a class of potentially deadly drug-resistant bacteria known as CREs — carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae. Carbapenem are a type of antibiotics typically given to treat infections of drug-resistant bacteria; the fact that a new class of superbugs are resistant to even these drugs is worrying many in the medical industry.

Carbapenem were thought of as a last resort drug. Now that CRE bugs have been found to be resistant to even these medications, there are few options left for combatting certain superbugs.

To detail their worries, twenty-six leading medical professionals from research institutions throughout the United States and Brazil recently published a study in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which outlines the threat posed by these new CRE superbugs. According to their research, this new class of CRE superbugs represent a grave danger to the efficacy of modern medical treatments:

Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) are among the most severe threats to the antibiotic era. Multiple different species can exhibit resistance due to many different mechanisms, and many different mobile elements are capable of transferring resistance between lineages.

In this study, researchers studied samples from 263 cases of drug-resistant bacteria that occurred in four different hospitals. The researchers were hoping to find common sets of bacterial genes which might be responsible for various superbugs’ drug resistance, but that search was fruitless. Instead, researchers found that bacteria have multiple, sometimes unknown types of drug resistance, and, more worryingly, that some of these bugs can transfer resistance mechanisms among one another.

No amount of washing is gonna kill those superbugs, doc.

Bill Hanage, an infectious diseases epidemiologist at Harvard, told medical news blog STAT that according to these latest data, we might have already lost the war against superbugs:

You know the phrase ‘Shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted?’ The horse has not only bolted, the horse has had a lot of ponies, and they’re eating all our carrots.

Not my carrots! I need those! Hopefully, this study can serve as a call to action for the medical industry. Due to the fact that their mechanisms of transmission and resistance are so unprecedented, these superbugs are a unique threat which requires the development new treatment paradigms. With a little luck, the healthcare industry will rise to the challenge. With a little misfortune, however, know what, forget it. I’ll be in my bunker.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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