Are Nightmare Bacteria Coming to a Hospital Near You?
March 20, 2013
By Dr. Mercola
Infections associated with antibiotic resistant “super germs” are increasing in hospitals across the United States. First it was MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), once rare but now far too commonplace in medical settings.
Although mortality rates have decreased, MRSA is believed to kill 18,650 people each year in the US, which is more than are killed by AIDS.1 But recently, concerns have shifted to even more dangerous bacteria called CRE.
When bacteria such as Klebsiella produce the enzyme carbapenemase (referred to as KPC-producing organisms), the class of antibiotics called carbapenems will not kill them, giving rise to the name carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE.2 CRE has been dubbed a “nightmare bacteria” by the CDC’s Director Tom Frieden because of their extreme resilience—it’s nearly impossible to kill them.
These super germs pose a triple-threat that makes them nearly impossible to kill with conventional antibiotics:3
- CRE are resistant to virtually all antibiotics, including the ones doctors use as a last-ditch effort to treat an infection
- The organisms can transfer their virility to other bacteria, making containment much more of a challenge.
- CRE bacterial infections are quite deadly, with a fatality rate as high as 50 percent.
According to a CDC Fact Sheet:4
- About four percent of US hospitals had at least one patient with CRE infections during the first half of 2012, and about 18 percent of long-term care hospitals had at least one case of CRE
- CRE germs have increased from one to four percent over the past decade, and one type has increased from two to 10 percent
- These nightmare bacteria have now been confirmed in medical facilities in 42 states over the past ten years5
The Star of This Horror Show: Klebsiella
Klebsiella6 are Gram-negative bacteria that can cause a number of different infections, including pneumonia, bloodstream infections, urinary tract infections, wound or surgical site infections, and meningitis. Klebsiella are often found in the human intestinal tract, where they are normally harmless. But if your immune system is compromised and you get exposed to this especially virulent form of Klebsiella, the consequences to you can be deadly. Children and the elderly are particularly susceptible. Factors that may increase your risk include the following:
- Hospitalization (especially in an ICU), major surgery, or severe illness
- Prolonged use of invasive medical devices
- Immunocompromised states (e.g., diabetes, cancer, poor diet, excess stress)
- Antimicrobial therapy (by killing the weaker microbes, which allows the more virulent types to flourish)
- Inadequate infection control practices
According to the CDC, Klebsiella infections tend to occur in patients whose care requires medical devices such as ventilators and IV catheters. The infection is spread by contaminated medical equipment and by physical contact between patients and healthcare personnel. These superbugs are growing increasingly resistant to the standard sterilization procedures used on medical equipment.
According to Thomas Frieden, Director of the CDC, if these bacteria spread to more common organisms such as E. coli, which are common causes of urinary tract infections, then the problem will be far more serious than it is now. And if the hypervirulent organisms make their way into the general public, we’ll really have a problem on our hands.
Well, it appears that may already be happening.
According to an article in Science Daily,7 drug-resistant strains of Klebsiella pneumoniae have been identified in several North American cities (including Buffalo, New York) and in Europe, Canada, Israel, and South Africa. University of Buffalo researchers characterize it as “under-recognized” by both physicians and microbiology laboratories. Infections typically present as a liver abscess in young and healthy people in the community, then tends to spread to other areas of their body, such as their lungs, brain and eyes, where it can cause brain damage and/or blindness. Between 10 and 30 percent of cases are fatal, which is a frighteningly high number for an otherwise healthy population!
What's Fueling the Rise of Antibiotic-Resistant Bugs?
In order to effectively combat this issue, it’s important to realize that antibiotic-resistant infections are a man-made problem caused by overuse of antibiotics both in medicine and agriculture. It’s not merely lack of hygiene or improper disinfection techniques that have made these superbugs impervious to nearly all of the drugs at our disposal. Superbugs have been known to survive on medical equipment that’s been disinfected with bleach!
About 70 percent of antibiotic use in the United States is for agricultural purposes. Animals are often fed low-dose antibiotics to prevent diseases and promote growth, and not only are those antibiotics transferred to you via your meat and even manure used for fertilizer but they also result in producing a highly antibiotic-resistant subpopulation of bacteria that end up on and within your food and eventually your body if you eat it.
The antibiotic resistance problem is abundantly evident when you look at what’s commonly found in grocery store meat and poultry—nearly half of the meat in the US is crawling with antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.
The prophylactic use of antibiotics in livestock is unnecessary if the animals are raised correctly. One chicken farmer has demonstrated that even large-scale animal farming can manage without routine administration of antibiotic drugs by instead using an herbal blend of oregano oil and cinnamon.
Antibiotic overuse is a major threat to public health. Recent research shows children whose mothers took antibiotics during their pregnancies were more likely to develop asthma. It is also well known that the use of intrapartum antibiotics at birth in women who have tested positive for group B Streptoccous results in significantly increased risk of late-onset, serious antibiotic-resistant infection in those infants.8
A baby gets his or her first "inoculation" of gut flora from the mother’s birth canal during childbirth, which is why a mother’s use of antibiotics during pregnancy or at birth may predispose her child to asthma and a variety of other ailments, including neurological dysfunction and autoimmune disorders. You can help yourself and your community by using antibiotics only when absolutely necessary and by purchasing organic, antibiotic-free meats and other foods.
IF You are Hospitalized, These Vital Strategies Could Save Your Life
Download Interview Transcript
In the US, more than two million people are affected by hospital-acquired infections every year, and 100,000 people die as a result. According to the 2011 Health Grades Hospital Quality in America Study,9 the rate of medical harm exceeds 40,000 incidents per day.
If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of requiring hospitalization, then I strongly suggest being proactive in your care. There are strategies you can use to minimize your chances for adverse events related to your hospital stay. A good start is to listen to my interview with Dr. Andrew Saul, linked above, who is an expert on this matter. You might want to purchase a copy of the book he co-authored, Hospitals and Health.
Ideally, you should always have a personal advocate with you when you’re in a hospital—someone who can look after your best interests in the event you’re unable to speak for yourself. Understand that you, the patient, are the most powerful entity within the entire hospital system. However, the system works on the assumption that the patient will not claim that power. Knowing your rights and responsibilities can help ensure your hospital stay is a safe and healing one.
Protecting Yourself from CRE and Other Deadly Infections
The key to protecting yourself from infections of all kinds is twofold: first, you must optimize your immune system, and the second part is minimizing your exposure to infectious agents. As stated above, keep your antibiotic drug use to a minimum, avoiding them whenever possible, including those making their way into your food supply.
If you do truly require antibiotics, then take them exactly as prescribed. Insist that all medical personnel and visitors wash their hands before touching you or handling medical equipment that will touch you. Refrain from touching other patients, and if you do, make sure your hands are clean. Wash you hands often, including after the following:
- After using the restroom, or ideally use a bidet so you don’t even have to touch your rectal area. The bidet will clean it far cleaner than paper and you only have to dry yourself.
- Before preparing or eating food.
- Before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, and after coughing or sneezing or blowing your nose.
- Before and after touching wound dressings or bandages.
- After touching hospital surfaces such as bed rails, bedside tables, doorknobs, remote controls, or your phone.
Fending off Super Germs Means Supercharging Your Immune System
Your lifestyle choices are the most critical factors in determining the health of your immune system, which determines your ability to resist infections. The stronger your immune defenses, the less chance a microbe will have of gaining a foothold in some part of your body. Below are some basic strategies for supercharging your immune system. You may also want to download my free special report about how to protect yourself from super germs.
- Optimize your diet. Avoid foods that tax your immune system such as synthetic trans fats, fried foods, processed foods, sugar and grains; reduce carbohydrates (sugar, grains, fructose) and protein, replacing them with high-quality fats. Fifty to 70 percent of your total intake should be fat. Most of your diet should be fresh, whole foods, like organic vegetables and grass-pastured meats and dairy, and beneficial fats, such as butter and fermented dairy from grass-pastured animals, cheese, egg yolks, and avocados.
A great portion of your immune system resides in your GI tract, which depends on a healthy, balanced gut flora. One of the best ways to support this is by incorporating naturally fermented foods into your diet, working up to 4-6 ounces per day. One large serving of several ounces of fermented foods can supply you with around 10 trillion beneficial bacteria, which is about 10 percent of the population of your gut.
The best way to learn how to ferment foods properly is to get the GAPS book or listen to my interview with Caroline Barringer. You can take a high quality probiotic supplement, but the actual fermented foods offer the highest benefit.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise improves the circulation of immune cells in your blood. The better these cells circulate, the more efficient your immune system is at locating and eliminating pathogens in your body. Make sure your fitness plan incorporates weight training, high intensity exercises, stretching and core work.
- Get plenty of restorative sleep. Recent research shows sleep deprivation has the same effect on your immune system as physical stress or disease, which is why you may feel ill after a sleepless night.
- Have good stress-busting outlets. High levels of stress hormones can diminish your immunity, so be sure you’re implementing some sort of stress management. Meditation, prayer, yoga, and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) are all excellent strategies for managing stress, but you’ll have to find what works best for you.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels. Studies have shown that inadequate vitamin D can increase your risk for MRSA and other infections, which can likely be extended to other superbugs. Your best source of vitamin D is through exposing your skin to the sun or using a safe tanning bed. Monitor your vitamin D levels to confirm they’re in the therapeutic range, 50-70 ng/ml. If you can’t get UV exposure, consider taking an oral vitamin D supplement.
In addition to the basic lifestyle measures listed above, there are several natural agents that science has shown to be naturally antibacterial. The following deserve special mention.
- Vitamin C. Vitamin C’s role in preventing and treating infectious disease is well established. Intravenous vitamin C is an option, but if you don’t have access to a practitioner who can administer it, liposomal vitamin C is the most potent oral form. For more information on vitamin C, listen to my interview with Dr. Ronald Hunninghake, an internationally recognized vitamin C expert. If you chose to use supplement vitamin C liposomal C seems to be the best form to use.
- Garlic. Garlic is a powerful antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal. It can stimulate your immune system, help wounds heal, and kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria (including MRSA and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis), plus has shown more than a hundred other health promoting properties.10 For highest potency, the garlic should be eaten fresh and raw (chopped or smashed.)
- Olive leaf extract. In vitro studies show olive leaf extract is effective against Klebsiella, inhibiting its replication, in addition to being toxic to other pathogenic microbes.
- Manuka honey. Manuka honey, made from the flowers and pollen of the Manuka bush, has been shown to be more effective than antibiotics in the treatment of serious, hard-to-heal skin infections. Clinical trials have found Manuka honey can effectively eradicate more than 250 clinical strains of bacteria, including resistant varieties such as MRSA.
- Tea tree oil. Tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic proven to kill many bacterial strains (including MRSA).11, 12
- Colloidal silver. Colloidal silver has been regarded as an effective natural antibiotic for centuries, and recent research shows it can even help eradicate antibiotic-resistant pathogens. If you are interested in this treatment, make sure you read the latest guidelines for safe usage of colloidal silver as there are risks with using it improperly.
- Copper. Replacing fixtures with certain copper alloys can help kill bacteria, even superbugs. Installing copper faucets, light switches, toilet seats and push plates in germ-infested areas such as hospitals and nursing homes could potentially save thousands of lives each year.