An infection commonly known as a “super bug” because of its historic resistance to antibiotic treatment — and potential deadly outcome — reportedly has been found at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
The family of infectious germs called CRE, which stands for carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, has been found in two patients within the last 12 months at the local hospital.
And while hospital officials contend that level of pathogen is not unusual — even considered low — the occurrence coincides with a general increase of CRE found in hospitals nationwide.
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, cases of CRE pathogens have increased to 4 percent from 1 percent in the past decade. That jump is fourfold, and one type of CRE has increased to 10 percent from 2 percent.
Forty-two states have reported that at least one patient has tested positive for one type of CRE, a germ more typically found in the Northeast, according to CDC data.
The same report shows that up to half of patients who develop a bloodstream infection from CRE die.
She emphasized that most people infected by CRE are already ill or in hospitals as patients — often those who are critically ill or have catheters, IVs or other devices inside the body.
“We’re a hospital, so we’re fighting infections every day,” Zate said. “CRE is just one type of what they call the super bug. People who get it have compromised systems already. They’re already very sick. They don’t have the resources within their immune system to fight these bugs.”
While sick individuals are most susceptible to CRE infections, the CDC says the pathogen’s ability to spread and its resistances raise the concern that potentially untreatable infections could appear in otherwise healthy people.
Zate said Cottage Hospital is already working to prevent CRE in ways the CDC suggests: diligent hand-washing, educating staff to identify and isolate an infected patient, and limiting the use of devices like catheters.
CRE has come from outside the community and even from other states to Santa Barbara, she said.
“We monitor hand-washing in the hospital,” said Zate, noting that hand-washing rates are above the 95 percentile. “We have an aggressive program for all of our medical residents.”
Cottage also launched a program in July to reduce the unnecessary use of prescriptions, an effort headed by infectious disease physicians and pharmacists.
“The increase in the super bugs has been linked to the overuse in antibiotics,” she said. “We’ve seen a significant reduction in antibiotic use. In Santa Barbara, we have a relatively low number.”