A Nevada Woman's Death Reveals an Emerging Crisis

January 14th 2017

Willie Burnley Jr.

A Nevada woman has died after being infected by a superbug: A bacteria resistant to all of the antibiotics available in the United States, according to news reports.

It's another sign of a coming global crisis that some say could be as potentially devastating as climate change.

The threat is the emergence and spread of lethal bacteria that cannot be treated with any known antibiotics.

The woman who died last summer had a strain of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae known as Klebsiella pneumoniae, which is resistant to all of the 26 antibiotics available in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The woman is believed to have picked up the bacteria in India, where there is a notable issue with antibiotic-resistant illnesses.

She died after being put into isolation for treatment in Washoe County, Nevada.

The death wasn't unexpected.

Public health officials have warned for years that the world is headed toward a post-antibiotic era if it does not change course.

If current trends continue, 10 million people a year could die of antibiotic-resistant superbugs by 2050, and the global economy could drop 2 to 3.5 percent as a result, according to a 2014 review by the government of the United Kingdom.

Addressing the threat of superbugs requires a Herculean effort of collaboration on par with that to tackle climate change.

But aside from calls for action by the United Nations and a few other bodies, lawmakers have done little to deal with the issue.

Governments around the world need to work with health care providers to ensure that the underlying causes of infection are minimized.

That includes improving poor sanitation, restricting the use of antibiotics to reasonable treatments, and improving communication about the incidence of superbugs.

"Health care facilities should obtain a history of health care exposures outside their region upon admission and consider screening for CRE when patients report recent exposure outside the United States or in regions of the United States known to have a higher incidence of CRE,” advised the CDC.

In a world of globalization, all nations will need to take such precautions to prevent catastrophe.