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‘Nightmare Bacteria’ Shows Up in Over Half of U.S.


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Medical book on antibiotic resistance bacteria

For hospitals working hard to keep medical devices clean, along comes another threat. It’s called “nightmare bacteria.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently amplified earlier warnings about new strains of such antibiotic-resistant bugs.

The CDC announced on April 3 that tests in health departments in all states and Puerto Rico uncovered 221 instances of unusual resistance in “nightmare bacteria,” potentially deadly organisms that are virtually invulnerable to most known treatments.

The CDC released its findings to encourage more doctors and health care facilities to turn over samples to state labs for testing.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are responsible for illnesses in 2 million Americans annually. Of those, 23,000 die, the CDC says.

Antibiotic resistance can undermine a range of medical treatments, says Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director.

“We don’t just rely on antibiotics to treat common infections,” Schuchat said. “Antibiotics are the safety net for most cancer treatments, surgical procedures, and ICU care and organ transplants. Antibiotic resistance threatens this safety net.”

Nightmare bacteria are considered worse than superbugs, which have been a problem for hospitals and patients for years.

Medical Devices Linked to Infections

Superbugs have been linked to hard-to-clean medical devices called duodenoscopes, which are used in endoscopic procedures.

The FDA recently put duodenoscope manufacturers on notice for failing to file reports about how new cleaning procedures are working.

Did you contract a superbug infection from an ERCP duodenoscope procedure? Get a Free Case Review

The devices spread infection outbreaks at several hospitals. A design flaw made the scopes difficult to sterilize between uses.

The new CDC report also found that patients most often affected by nightmare bacteria were those who came into contact with ventilators, IVs and other hard-to-clean medical devices. These tubular-shaped devices are more likely to harbor debris.

Patients who traveled overseas for health care also seemed to be at greater risk for nightmare bacteria.

Hospitals, Nursing Homes Harbor Dangerous Bacteria

The CDC’s recent report primarily focused on the potential spread of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE).

These dangerous bacteria are most commonly found in hospitals and nursing homes.

Sicker patients and those with pre-existing health conditions like cystic fibrosis, are more likely to fall victim to its effects.

Strains of these bacteria, including Klebsiella and Escherichia coli, are naturally occurring in a person’s intestines. But outside of their home in the bowels, they can cause severe, sometimes deadly, infections.

The bacteria often manifest as pneumonia (lung infections), urinary tract infections (UTIs) and bloodstream infections (sepsis).

People who come into contact with infected patients can also become carriers of the nightmare bacteria.

CDC Launches Aggressive Bug Attacks

The CDC launched efforts to quickly react to antibiotic-resistant bacteria in 2017.

The department’s goal was to slow potential spread of emerging threats. It aimed to do this with increased detection and aggressive early response.

Its strategy also included on-site infection control assessments. These assessments are intended to identify and fill in any gaps in infection prevention in health care facilities.

The CDC’s efforts within the first nine months have been successful, according to Schuchat. But its findings were more widespread than previously thought.

In a network of labs set up by the CDC nationwide, nearly 5,800 samples of highly resistant germs were tested for unusual resistance. About one in four of the bacteria had a gene that could help its resistance spread.

Another 221 instances had an especially rare resistance gene.

If left undetected, about one in 10 instances of these bugs could have continued spreading.

But Schuchat remains confident that there is still time to get ahead of the nightmare bacteria.

“The bottom line is that resistance genes with the capacity to turn regular germs into nightmare bacteria have been introduced into many states,” Schuchat concluded. “But with an aggressive response, we have been able to stomp them out promptly and stop their spread between people, between facilities and between other germs.”

Getting vaccinated, taking proper care of chronic health conditions, frequent hand-washing, and general wound-cleaning are some other ways patients can help in preventing the spread of nightmare bacteria.

Kristin Compton
Written By Kristin Compton Writer

Kristin Compton's background is in legal studies. She worked as a paralegal before joining Drugwatch as a writer and researcher. She was also a member of the National Association of Legal Assistants. A mother and longtime patient, she has firsthand experience of the harmful effects prescription drugs can have on women and their children. Some of her qualifications include:

  • Bachelor of Arts in Legal Studies | Pre-Law from University of West Florida
  • Past employment with The Health Law Firm and Kerrigan, Estess, Rankin, McLeod & Thompson LLC
  • Personal experience battling severe food allergies, asthma and high-risk pregnancies
Edited By

5 Cited Research Articles writers follow rigorous sourcing guidelines and cite only trustworthy sources of information, including peer-reviewed journals, court records, academic organizations, highly regarded nonprofit organizations, government reports and interviews with qualified experts. Review our editorial policy to learn more about our process for producing accurate, current and balanced content.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, April 3). Transcript for VitalSigns Teleconference: Antibiotic Resistant Germs. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from
  2. Russell Woodworth, K. et al. (2018, April 6). Vital Signs: Containment of Novel Multidrug-Resistant Organisms and Resistance Mechanisms – United States, 2006-2017. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. CDC. Retrieved from
  3. Associated Press. (2018, April 3). CDC: Drug-resistant ‘nightmare bacteria’ pose growing threat. Stat News. Retrieved from
  4. Harris, R. (2018, April 3). Federal Efforts To Control Rare And Deadly Bacteria Working. NPR. Retrieved from
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, February 23). Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae in Healthcare Settings. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from
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