The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has discovered a deadly superbug — the same one that caused outbreaks at UCLA and 2 other LA hospitals — in municipal sewage treatment plants. New research shows that CRE bacteria may flourish in these facilities, where wastewater is treated before being released into streams, lakes and oceans.
What’s the problem?
March 14, 2016 – Last fall, scientists at the EPA detected CRE bacteria in a sewage treatment plant in Southern California, according to CBS News. The bacteria was suspected to have been brought there with millions of gallons of raw sewage from local hospitals, where the superbug caused multiple infections. Although the treated water was never tested specifically for CRE, experts say it’s possible that the treatment process didn’t eliminate all of the bacteria.
“It’s scary,” said Dr. James McKinnell, an infectious disease specialist from Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute (LA BioMed). “What you’re seeing is more evidence of this type of bacteria setting up shop in our community.”
CRE is a family of germs normally found in the intestinal tracts of humans and other mammals. When these bacteria spread outside the gut they can cause severe systemic infections including urinary tract infections (UTIs), bloodstream infections, wound infections and pneumonia, especially in people with compromised immune systems. CRE bacteria kill up to 50% of patients who become infected, according to the CDC.
Hospital patients and those in long-term care facilities or nursing home are most likely to contract CRE; however, now that the bacteria has been found in sewage treatment plants, many more people may be at risk.
“An environmental source of CRE transmission is out in the general population now,” McKinnell said. “This is clearly an emerging problem.”
McKinnell and colleagues are working with the CDC to develop preventive measures to help reduce the occurrence of CRE superbug and other drug-resistant bacteria in California and across the U.S.
“This is a national problem,” McKinnell said. “The CDC reports this is an urgent public health threat.”