Delaware, Pennsylvania report first U.S. cases of rare drug-resistant bacteria

    Health officials in Delaware have reported that an 81-year-old New Castle County man is the first in the country to be infected with a particular drug-resistant strain of Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

    Awe Maduka-Ezeh, the medical director for Delaware’s Division of Public Health, said patients most often pick up Pseudomonas infections in hospitals. They don’t usually cause trouble unless the patient has a weakened immune system. This particular strain,  first observed in Serbia several years ago, is worrisome because it’s yet another germ that’s hard to fight with typical medicines.

    “This bacteria has this NDM gene and what that gene does is it gives the bacteria the ability to destroy a very important group of antibiotics that we call carbapenems,” said Maduka-Ezeh. “Carbapenems, they are what we consider the ‘big gun’ antibiotics — so they’re like the go-to antibiotics when all else has failed.”

    The NDM-type of carbapenem resistance has been seen before in the U.S. with other bacteria, such as Enterobacteriaceae, but never before in Pseudomonas. Bacteria with carbapenem resistance are usually resistant to several other classes of antibiotics as well, leaving very few drugs — often with toxic side effects — as treatment options.

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    Antibiotic resistance in a variety of bacteria is an increasing concern for doctors, who find their regular treatment tools fail to fight back infections once regarded as easy to cure. Maduka-Ezeh said this latest news “really underscores the fact that our health care providers have to be really good stewards of the antibiotics that we have, in terms of prescribing them only when absolutely necessary.”

    A second case has been confirmed in Pennsylvania, where both patients are now being treated. Wesley Culp, a spokesman the Pennsylvania Department of Health, declined to comment on the location or status of the patients, writing in a statement that “if any public health risks evolve, the department will provide additional information to ensure the safety and well-being of the public.”

    The CDC is currently investigating in collaboration with both states’ heath departments.

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