terrifying superbug outbreak… paging kreston
When a 43-year-old female lung transplant patient arrived at the National Institutes of Health’s Clinical Center in June 2011, the hospital’s infection control team was on high alert. The woman carried a “superbug” resistant to all but two antibiotics, and the NIH staff wanted to keep the dangerous bacteria contained.
The patient was isolated in the intensive care unit. Staff members donned gowns and gloves before entering her room. Her nurses cared for no other patients.
When she was discharged in July to return to New York, the NIH thought these measures had worked. There were no signs that the bug — known as Klebsiella pneumoniae — had spread.
But a few weeks later, the hospital staff was “horrified,” said Tara Palmore, an NIH infection control specialist, when a second patient tested positive for the bacteria. A third and fourth soon followed. Those three patients eventually died as the bacteria grew impervious to every known antibiotic — even new experimental drugs.
The outbreak, not made public until now, was a minor disaster for the NIH, as its experts fought for months to control a superbug that was killing patients.
Over six months — and despite building literal and figurative walls to stop it — the bacteria hopped to 17 patients, 11 of whom died. Six of those deaths were attributed to the superbug, NIH staff reported Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.