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Superbug 'Phantom Menace' Increasing In U.S., CDC

Update Date: Dec 07, 2015 06:26 PM EST

A 'phantom menace' is stalking the U.S., posing a major threat to public health, explains a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This bacteria is part of the carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), which is a group that is resistant to a number of antibiotics. An enzyme encoded in their plasmids is known as carbapenemase that makes them resist carbapenem antibiotics.

There are totally 43 "phantom menace" infections in the U.S., which are spreading across 19 states from 2010 to 2015. Those patients that were infected had an average age of 70 years. A few of them are said to have got affected while they were travelling abroad, even though the infections may have got transferred locally too.

Plasmids, or mobile DNA material transferred quickly from one bacterium to another, can be resistant to antibiotics and can also move on speedily to various kinds of bacteria. Hence, superbugs are "of greatest public health concern because of their potential for rapid global dissemination," says the CDC.

The "phantom menace" superbug cannot be detected easily, but is less resistant to antibiotics compared to other CRE. That is the reason it is not studied or examined frequently.

"This is a tricky drug-resistant bacteria, and it isn't easily found. What we're seeing is an assault by the microbes on the last bastion of antibiotics," CDC director Thomas Frieden told The Washington Post. 

Frieden agreed that the data on "phantom menace" infections might just be "just the tip of the iceberg."

The increase in identifying CRE, permitting Klebsiella pneumonia, or the pneumonia-causing bacteria, to resist antibiotics, and a recent report about superbugs in China resistant to the last-line antibiotic colistin, highlights "the continued urgency to delay the spread of CRE," according to CDC.

The superbug that had been identified in China was detected in a person in Denmark, according to the Technological University of Denmark.

Lance Price, head of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at George Washington University, found the Danish discovery "alarming."

"History shows that these mobile resistance genes can spread around the world quickly, silently riding in people, animals, and food," Price told National Geographic."The news that MCR-1 has been discovered in Denmark suggests that this scenario is playing out in real time."

A bacteria culture that shows a positive infection of enterohemorrhagic E. coli, also known as the EHEC bacteria.

This sample of a patient lies on a table in the analysis lab at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf on June 2, 2011 in Hamburg, Germany. Across Europe at least 17 people have died from the outbreak.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

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