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New superbug resistant to 26 antibiotics killed U.S. woman, docs say in scary case study

FILE - In this Nov. 7, 2008 file photo, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus colonies from a Seattle hospital patient grow in a blood agar plate at a local lab in Seattle.
FILE - In this Nov. 7, 2008 file photo, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus colonies from a Seattle hospital patient grow in a blood agar plate at a local lab in Seattle. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times via AP

It’s the medical community’s basic nightmare: in a concerning case study, U.S. doctors say a superbug that’s resistant to every antibiotic available in the country, killed a Nevada woman in her 70s.

On Aug. 18 last year, the woman was isolated in hospital after an extended visit to India. She was going in and out of hospital in the years before in India to treat a right femur fracture and other issues in her hip. In the U.S. hospital, she was diagnosed with systemic inflammatory response system.

By September, she developed septic shock and died. Turns out, a superbug that was resistant to 26 antibiotics killed her. The patient was infected with CRE – carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae – the specific microbe was Klebsiella pneumoniae, the study authors say.

READ MORE: Canadian docs discover fungus that fights deadly superbugs

“It was tested against everything that’s available in the United States … and was not effective,” Dr. Alexander Kallen, a medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Stat News.

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The incident is a rarity in the U.S. but superbugs are a growing concern in India and other parts of the developing world.

In the case study, published Thursday in the CDC’s journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the doctors say hospitals need to maintain infection control precautions to make sure superbugs don’t spread. Patients also need to be upfront about their travel and medical history so they’re properly screened for superbugs or other diseases.

In an interview with Global News last year, Dr. Gregory Taylor, Canada’s outgoing chief public health officer, said germs resistant to antibiotics are one of the “wicked problems” the country is facing.

READ MORE: New superbug renders antibiotics powerless

He’s worried about superbugs because germs are quickly developing anti-microbial resistance and the antibiotics we have on hand aren’t as potent while drug makers aren’t inventing more options. We’re nearing a reality in which operations can’t happen or routine infections could kill people, he warned.

“This is public enemy No. 1,” Dr. Gerry Wright, lead researcher and McMaster University scientist, said of superbugs.

Almost 90 years ago, Scottish researcher Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin and ushered in a wave of new medications, all derived from bacteria in the soil beneath our feet.

Suddenly, pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood infections — ailments that once killed entire communities at a time — became manageable. Antibiotics were dubbed “wonder drugs”: they revolutionized medical care and extended life expectancy.

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But we’re still relying on old innovations: half of the antibiotics prescribed to sick patients today were discovered in the 1950s, Canadian research suggests.

Wright says there have been virtually no new antibiotics discovered since the 1980s.

READ MORE: We need new antibiotics. Who’s going to pay for them?

“We’re at a very precarious point simply because we don’t have any new drugs coming on board,” Wright told Global News.

Read the full case study here.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca