Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans are sickened and tens of thousands die from infections by antibiotic-resistant bacteria and C. difficile, a pathogen linked to long-term antibiotic use. Timely reporting of outbreaks of these infections is essential to stopping the spread of disease and saving lives, public health experts and patient advocates say. Reuters assembled one of the most comprehensive counts yet – identifying at least 300 superbug outbreaks around the nation from 2011 to 2016. The number of people affected was impossible to determine because many reports didn’t include a count of the infected or the dead.
MSN reported the fascinating and tragic facts related to “Superbug” outbreaks. One example was at Casa Maria nursing home in January 2014. A resident of the nursing home was diagnosed with Clostridium difficile, a highly contagious and potentially deadly “Superbug” characterized by fever, abdominal cramps and violent diarrhea caused by unsanitary conditions that plague hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities.
By the end of February, six more Casa Maria residents were suffering from the infection. Under New Mexico regulations, healthcare facilities must report a suspected outbreak of C. difficile to the state Health Department within 24 hours.
Casa Maria did not contact authorities until March 4, 2014. By then, nine of the nursing home’s 86 residents had active infections. By June, fifteen residents had been infected, and eight were dead. The public was never informed — until now.
The outbreak and the way it was handled exposed dangerous flaws in U.S. efforts to control the spread of superbug infections. An examination of cases across the country reveals a system that protects the healthcare facilities where superbugs thrive, while leaving patients, their families and the broader public ignorant of potentially deadly threats.
The United States lacks a unified nationwide system for reporting and tracking outbreaks. Instead, a patchwork of state laws and guidelines, inconsistently applied, tracks clusters of the deadly infections that the federal government 15 years ago labeled a grave threat to public health.
Most states require that hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities report suspected outbreaks of infectious disease, drug-resistant or otherwise, within one business day or less of identifying the problem so that health officials can intervene to halt their spread.
Many state health officials say disclosing information about outbreaks to the public or punishing facilities risks dissuading hospitals and nursing homes from reporting. They say they see themselves as collaborators with healthcare facilities. The collaborative approach fails the public.
Reuters showed that hospitals and nursing homes do not alert each other when they transfer an infected patient, which can allow contagion to spread among multiple locations. Reuters documented cases in which infected patients were transferred, sometimes multiple times, without any of the receiving facilities being notified.
A Reuters analysis of death certificates found that from 2003 to 2014, annual superbug-related deaths at long-term care facilities increased 62 percent, from about 1,400 to almost 2,300.