Largest outbreak of dangerous bacteria in U.S. tied to Illinois - FOX 32 News Chicago

Largest outbreak of certain deadly bacteria in U.S. tied to Ill. hospital

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(Center for Disease Control) (Center for Disease Control)
CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

An outbreak, one that's being called the biggest in the U.S., of a particular deadly bacteria happened at a Chicago-area hospital, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, earlier this year.

So far no one has died, but officials are sounding the alarm about a new drug-resistant bug that infected patients having a specific kind of surgery.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has discovered 44 cases of a strain of bacteria called carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, in northeast Illinois, including 38 confirmed cases involving patients at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge who underwent an endoscopic procedure of the pancreas or bile ducts between January and September 2013.

So far, only 10 have become infected.

Yet, the story is getting national attention because it's the cutting edge of a much bigger and scarier problem.

There have only been 96 cases reported in the U.S. since the bacteria was first reported in 2009. The outbreak is a form of CRE called NDM-1, or an enzyme that makes bacteria resistant to antibiotics. And prior to last year, the largest outbreak the CDC had seen was 10 cases found in Denver.

"A large number of patients have been identified, a large number of transmissions — total of 44 — and 39 of those were found in the Chicago area. It's the largest outbreak that we've seen in the U.S. of this bacteria ever," said Alex Kallen, an infectious diseases doctor who served as the supervisor of the CDC investigation.

The bacteria is highly resistant and is mainly found in people in healthcare settings, like nursing homes. The most common infection the bacteria causes is a urinary tract infection, but if that infection goes to the bloodstream, the patient has a 40 to 50 percent chance of dying.

The bacteria is in a family of more than 70 bacteria including E. coli that normally live in the digestive system, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. But some of those bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics, including a group of antibiotics known as carbapenems, often referred to as "last-resort" antibiotics.

Dr. Leo Kelly of Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge said they called in the bacteria detectives from the Centers for Disease Control last summer to help them track down the source of the superbug, and found it in one of their own operating rooms.

It was on a tool used to perform an endoscopic procedure called "ERCP," which uses a scope to look at the bile duct and pancreas.

A history of undergoing the endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) was strongly associated with the bacteria, according to the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report issued Jan. 3. Even after manual cleaning and "high-level disinfection," cultures from the device recovered E. coli and other bacteria.

The study however finds there were no flaws in protocol.

Two-hundred-and-forty-three patients had the procedure between January and September at Advocate Lutheran of last year and were potentially exposed to the deadly bacteria.

"We notified those patients by phone call and certified letter to come for a screening. Most of those patients wouldn't have been exposed, but we wanted to be certain and be safe," Dr. Kelly said.

So far 114 of those patients have been screened.

As mentioned earlier, 38 have been found to be carrying the bacteria, but 28 of those patients are asymptomatic, meaning they're not showing any signs of infection.

The 10 patients showing symptoms are being treated with a cocktail of antibiotics and have left the hospital.

"When it gets in the bloodstream it does something that most bacteria that infect us do. It creates high fever, it starts to create tissue damage. And that's where the danger comes in," Dr. Mona Khanna said.

Fox 32 medical expert Dr.. Mona Khanna said this particular bacteria, called "CRE" is part of a growing number of bacterial strains and mutations that have become resistant to conventional antibiotics.

The medical community has worried for years that intensive use of antibiotics and anti-bacterial soaps is helping Mother Nature create this new strain of superbugs.

"When we run to the end of 'wow, we don't have any antibiotics to treat this infection anymore' is when we're gonna be in big trouble," Dr. Mona said

Dr. Kelly said the hospital was following the proper cleaning procedures for that infected tool, but they apparently weren't strong enough to kill the superbug.

Now they're using gas sterilization to clean all their scopes, which is what is used on other operating room tools.

The Sun-Times Media Wire Contributed to this report.

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