Health Dept., CDC discuss antibiotic-resistant bacteria in Pa.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – It is not a superbug; not yet, anyway.

That’s the word from the Centers for Disease Control and the Pennsylvania Department of Health about mcr-1, an antibiotic-resistant bacteria recently discovered in the commonwealth.

But officials worry that if mcr-1 hooks up with other resistant bacteria, a superbug could result.

Dr. Jeff Miller, the Health Department’s lead investigator, says the case is being taken very seriously.

“We’ve got the stage set for a bacteria that could potentially be untreatable,” Miller said. “We’ve got the mcr-1 gene that we’ve found in multiple parts of the world and now here in the United States. We also have other highly resistant bacteria and if those two things should meet, we might have a bacteria that would not be treatable.”

Miller, citing the state’s patient privacy laws, is being tight-lipped about the Pennsylvania case. We know the woman who tested positive is being treated and will be OK. Officials don’t yet know how or where she got it or if she’s infected anyone else. She has not been quarantined, they confirm.

It appears the public health danger is more of the future possibilities of mcr-1 than its current realities.

“The risk to the public at this point is pretty much minimal,” said Dr. Beth Bell, director of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. “This particular finding in one individual is not a reason for other individuals to be concerned right now.”

But individuals can reduce their risks, health experts say, by washing hands frequently, cooking meat to temperature, taking precautions when in medical facilities. And these doctors are urging other doctors to use antibiotics only when absolutely necessary, which is not happening right now.

“Up to 50 percent of [antibiotic] prescriptions are either incorrect or unneeded,” Miller said. He recommends that patients strongly question their physicians before just accepting an antibiotic.

The CDC says it can monitor and fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but can’t kill them. Bacteria, even antibiotic resistant ones, are a fact of life.

“This is not something we can eradicate,” Bell said. “What we have to do is detect faster, strengthen our prevention strategies, and be very quick at controlling outbreaks when they’re identified.”

“I think it’s fair to characterize this as the scientists are sounding the alarm,” Miller said, “but this is something we should all be concerned about. It’s something in the future we may all be impacted by.”

On the Web: MCR-1 FAQs

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