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Treatment underway of 'superbug' case reported at USC-Verdugo Hills Hospital

Treatment underway of 'superbug' case reported at USC-Verdugo Hills Hospital
Medical illustration of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, also known as CRE. (CDC)

While treatment of the single case of the "superbug" reported last week at USC-Verdugo Hills Hospital continues, county health department officials said one case is not cause for alarm.

On March 17, USC-Verdugo Hills Hospital Interim CEO Paul Craig sent out a letter to hospital staff informing them of one case of CRE (carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae), which he called a "treatable organism."

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In this case, he said, the infection was not contracted by a medical device.

"No hospital is infection free. All superbugs live in healthcare environments, and in our case this infection was not contracted through the use of a device, which has been the case at other facilities," Craig wrote in the letter.

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Details on the person who contracted the bacteria were not released, but hospital officials reported the patient was isolated and being treated with antibiotics.

Meanwhile, communicable disease experts say a single case of CRE is not necessarily cause for alarm in Los Angeles County where, at any given time, hundreds of cases are being reported.

The discovery came one month after 179 patients at UCLA's Ronald Reagan Medical Centers were thought to have been exposed to the CRE bacteria from contaminated medical scopes. There, the deaths of two patients were linked to the outbreak.

But Laurene Mascola, chief of the Acute Communicable Disease Control (ACD) unit of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, says the recent incident is not uncommon in places where people may be coming from other care facilities.

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The overuse or incorrect use of antibiotics and antibacterial agents, which kill the body's naturally occurring "good" bacteria, and patients' insistence on being treated with antibiotics when it may not be appropriate are broader concerns in the medical community, Mascola said.

"We tend to be a wimpy nation," she quipped. "(But) if you live in a bubble, it's not going to last."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CRE infections typically occur in people being treated in hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities. Although it can be spread through direct human contact, it is most commonly contracted through exposure to contaminated surfaces, the CDC reports.

Those whose care requires the use of devices, such as ventilators, catheters, as well as patients who've been prescribed long regimens of antibiotics, are especially at risk for infection.

During a study of CRE incidence in Los Angeles County, conducted by the ACD unit from June 2010 to June 2011, confirmed 605 cases of CRE infections in various acute-care facilities, according to Mascola. That baseline provides a rough understanding of the threshold required for an outbreak.

"One case at Verdugo Hills is not something we'd investigate or look into," Mascola said. "We only look at outbreak settings, where there's more than we expected. But one case is not that unusual."

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