Drug-resistant germ strikes Southland health care facilities

A stubborn, drug-resistant bacterium is wreaking havoc on some Southland health care centers. Researchers say medical staff have reported more than 350 cases of the dangerous bacterial strain in Los Angeles County.

The superbug is called Carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae or CRKP for short, and is a close cousin of the E-coli bacteria.

Public health officials say it has mostly affected elderly patients. Some studies suggest fewer than half the infected people in this country and beyond have died.

What’s challenging about CRKP is that most antibiotics can’t kill it. One that can is colistin, but the side effects of this drug are lethal – often they cause kidney failure.

Arjun Srinivasan works with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

“In some situations where we have nothing else," said Srinivasan. "We have to use colistin but it’s not an agent that we like to use and we are beginning to see bacteria that are resistant to colistin as well.”

At least 30 states, including California, have reported CRKP infections to Srinivasan’s agency.

“It was a state where we knew the CRKP organisms were back in 2009 when the CDC published guidelines on how to prevent these types of infections from spreading in hospitals.”

The LA County Health Department mandated that health care facilities report the infections last year.

Officials say concerned patients in acute care facilities and nursing homes should ask their doctors lots of questions about simple ways they avoid infection, including washing hands, using alcohol-based hand sanitizers and minimizing the use of catheters that can put them at higher risk.

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