Local hospitals are on high alert after the World Health Organization recently published its first ever list of potentially deadly bacteria. The WHO says the list is necessary to advocate for new antibiotics needed around the world.
Before a superbug can be treated, though, it needs to be tracked, which is where the experts at St. Elizabeth Healthcare come in to the picture.
Patty Burns, an infection control manager at St. Elizabeth, has her team track all organisms, but, in particular, resistant organisms.
One of their most recent assignments came from the WHO regarding a gut bacteria commonly known as CRE, or Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae.
CRE is a group of infections that show up in those who are already really sick and the infections are very hard to treat, which is a very dangerous combination.
“Some of them over time, through various mechanisms, develop resistance to antibiotics,” Burns explained, but her team works together like a detective unit to figure out more about the bacteria.
Step one is to isolate the CRE and see if the usual drugs will work to treat it.
Alicia Graves, a microbiology lab supervisor, said, “We will run an antibiotic susceptibility panel on that organism. And then we look at that panel and then we check to see for resistance.”
Step two, if resistant, involves letting the patient’s care team know immediately what was found.
“You have to start looking at other treatments that could be available,” explained Eric Nordman, a pharmacist at St. Elizabeth. He also indicated that “infection control practices have the most to do with whether or not the bacteria has the ability to spread to other patients at the facility.”
If the infection can spread, appropriate protective actions are in place to keep the population safe.
At step three, they start testing those other treatments against the new CRE strain.
Finally, step four includes starting the therapy right away that the lab has identified as the one that will work on this strain of CRE.
“So that we don’t have outbreaks of these sorts of organisms or new mutations occurring,” added Nordman
A superbug can impact a lot of people if the right treatment isn’t found and used quickly. The team told Liz Bonis they don’t ever want to see new infections, but when they do, the process of finding a new solution is what makes the job really fascinating.