USA Today's research shows there have been thousands of CRE cases throughout the country in recent years -- they show up as everything from pneumonia to intestinal and urinary tract infections. Yet even larger outbreaks like the UVA episode, in which seven patients also died, have received little or no national attention until now.
The bacteria's ability to defeat even the most potent antibiotics has conjured fears of illnesses that can't be stopped. Death rates among patients with CRE infections can be about 40%, far worse than other, better-known health care infections such as MRSA or C-Diff, which have plagued hospitals and nursing homes for decades. And there are growing concerns that CRE could make its way beyond health facilities and into the general community.
"From the perspective of drug-resistant organisms, (CRE) is the most serious threat, the most serious challenge we face to patient safety," says Arjun Srinivasan, associate director for prevention of health care-associated infections at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since the first known case, at a North Carolina hospital, was reported in 2001, CREs have spread to at least 41 other states, according to the CDC. And many cases still go unrecognized, because it can be tough to do the proper laboratory analysis, particularly at smaller hospitals or nursing homes.