The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sounded the alarm this week after it found that “nightmare bacteria” capable of resisting most antibiotics have popped up across the country. But officials also expressed optimism that “an aggressive approach can snuff them out” before those germs become widespread.
That new Vital Signs report released by CDC this week  said that U.S. health departments found 221 cases of germs with “unusual antibiotic resistance genes” during 2017. Those germs include those that cannot be killed by all or most antibiotics, are not common to a geographic area or the U.S., or have specific genes that enable them to spread their resistance to other germs, according to a CDC release.
“The bottom line is that resistance genes with the capacity to turn regular germs into nightmare bacteria have been introduced into many states,” Anne Schuchat, MD, CDC’s principal deputy director, said Tuesday during a conference call with media. “But with an aggressive response, we have been able to stomp them out promptly and stop their spread between people, between facilities and between other germs.”
Antibiotic-resistant germs kill more than 23,000 Americans each year and approximately 2 million Americans are sickened by antibiotic-resistant germs annually. “As fast as we have run to slow resistance, some germs have outpaced us,” said Schuchat. “We have had some success, but it just isn’t enough to turn the tide. We need to do more and we need to do it faster and earlier with each new antibiotic resistance threat.”
The CDC’s Antibiotic Resistance Lab worked with local health departments to deploy a containment strategy to stop the spread of antibiotic resistance. The first step is rapid identification of new or rare threats; after a germ with unusual resistance is detected, healthcare facilities must quickly isolate patients and begin aggressive infection control and screening actions, according to the CDC release.
“CDC’s study found several dangerous pathogens, hiding in plain sight, that can cause infections that are difficult or impossible to treat,” stated Schuchat. “It’s reassuring to see that state and local experts, using our containment strategy, identified and stopped these resistant bacteria before they had the opportunity to spread.”
After rapid identification of antibiotic resistance, the CDC’s strategy calls for infection control assessments , testing patients without symptoms who may carry and spread the germ, and continued assessments until the spread is stopped. It requires coordinated response among healthcare facilities, labs, health departments, and the CDC through the Antibiotic Resistance Lab network.
The CDC study also found that 11% of screening tests of patients without symptoms found a hard-to-treat germ that spreads easily, which means that the germ could have spread undetected in that facility. For carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), the report estimates that the containment strategy would prevent as many as 1,600 new infections in three years in a single state — a 76% reduction.
While the CDC tried to put a positive spin on the findings of this Vital Signs report, some experts remain concerned about the rise of antibiotic-resistant germs.
“This isn’t an acute crisis where a wave just hits you,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, told Liz Szabo of Kaiser Health News . “But we see these rare cases of resistance in remote areas of the world, and within a year or two, it’s everywhere.”