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Health Dept.: 'Superbug' spreads in county

March 25, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
It's not a new type of super bacteria, but this was the first time Los Angeles County health officials required laboratories to track its presence. And unexpectedly, they found hundreds of cases of CRKP.

Will we see more? And how can we prevent the spread?

CRKP (Carbapenem-Resistant Klebsiella Pneumoniae) is just one of a growing number of pathogens resistant to multiple antibiotics. But experts say it's not necessarily more serious than other "superbugs." But it tends to show up in some of the sickest patients.

They're virulent, invasive, and potentially fatal, and there's not much anyone can do about this latest round of super-resistant germs. The typical battery of antibiotics has virtually no effect on them.

The L.A. County Department of Public Health says roughly 350 cases of a relatively new "superbug" call CRKP has been reported in local hospitals between June and December of 2010.

"Perhaps we've underappreciated how crafty bacteria are in becoming resistant at all the antibiotics that we throw at them," said Dr. Kimberly Shriner, Huntington Hospital.

CRKP a relative of E. coli. It colonizes in very ill patients, many of whom have been on ventilators. But how did CRKP get to be such a big problem?

Huntington Hospital infectious disease expert Dr. Shriner says as a society we are all responsible.

"One of the real reasons we're having problems with antibiotic resistance is the overuse of antibiotics," said Shriner. "We perhaps are a little bit too quick to put people on antibiotics for things that maybe really don't warrant them."

So what can you do stop the spread of superbugs? Shriner says if your doctor says you don't need antibiotics, listen to what he or she is trying to tell you.

"Generally colds are caused by viruses, corona viruses, and they don't need and certainly don't respond to antibiotics," said Shriner.

Shriner says even with these steps superbugs will still stick around, so the best defense is proper hygiene: prevention practices at home and in hospitals.

"So we need to stay ahead of the game by good science and good practice and common sense," said Shriner.

And another important note: Shriner says if patients are prescribed antibiotics, they should follow the directions and finish the full course of their medication.