More than 9,000 people are infected by Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) each year in the Unites States alone. Nearly 600 or more of them eventually succumb to the infection. However, according to a new study, that could be only the tip of the iceberg as many more people are probably carrying the bacteria without even knowing it or showing any symptoms.

The data so far at the researcher’s’ disposal suggest that the bacteria may have ‘fine tuned’ itself to spread silently, without giving rise to any symptoms in infected people.

superbug cre threat

The scientists studying CRE has been observing the family of these superbugs for awhile now. As per their findings, originally published in the journal National Academy of Sciences on Jan 16, the CRE is now capable of successfully resisting antibiotics of last resort. Worse even, it seems there are a lot of different aspects about this class of bacteria that scientists are not even aware of.

If that’s the case, then CREs have many more ways to evade antibiotics than what researchers have learned till date. Odds are high that the bacteria has found the right technique to spread far more stealthily than existing surveillance methods can detect.

“While the typical focus has been on treating sick patients with CRE-related infections, our new findings suggest that CRE is spreading beyond the obvious cases of disease. We need to look harder for this unobserved transmission within our communities and healthcare facilities if we want to stamp it out,” Study researcher William Hanage, from Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health said.

Hanage and his team collected and genetically sequences over 250 CRE isolates that are medically proven to have been behind multiple diseases treated by four U.S. hospitals over a period of 16 months. The isolates were extracted from the respiratory tract, blood, wound and urine samples of patients.

The study showed that CREs have the ability to adapt easier than previously thought. Also, the variety with which they generally appear in the patients can be explained by a [possible] silent transmission. The researchers acknowledge that further studies are needed to leave the room for any potential ambiguity left behind in their research. However, if their findings are indeed accurate, this would essentially mean that it’s high time to look for newer strategies to counter these microbes.

“We provide evidence for considerable asymptomatic carriage and unrecognizable mechanisms of carbapenem resistance that, together, indicate continued innovation by these organisms to thwart the action of this important class of antibiotics and underscore the need for continued surveillance of CRE,” the study read.


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