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Hospitalists Can’t Ignore Rise in Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) Infections


Neil Fishman, MD, associate chief medical officer at the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia, sounds like a football coach when he says the best way to fight carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) infections is with a good defense. Hospitalists and others should focus on contact precautions, hand hygiene, removing gowns and gloves before entering new rooms, and even suggest better room cleanings when trying to prevent the spread of CRE, he says. In fact, he has worked with SHM leadership for years to engage hospitalists about the “critical necessity of antimicrobial stewardship.”

“They’re all critical to prevent transmission,” says Dr. Fishman, who chairs the CDC’s Health Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee. “That’s part of the things that can be done in the here and now to try to prevent people from getting infected with these organisms. It’s what the CDC calls ‘detect and prevent.’”

Dr. Fishman’s suggestions echo findings in a new CDC report that shows a threefold increase in the proportion of Enterobacteriaceae bugs that proved resistant to carbapenem in the past decade. The data, in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, showed the proportion of reported Enterobacteriacae that were CRE infections jumped to 4.2% in 2011 from 1.2% in

2001, according to data from the National Nosocomial Infection Surveillance system.

“It is a very serious public health threat,” says co-author Alex Kallen, MD, MPH, a medical epidemiologist and outbreak response coordinator in the CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. “Maybe it’s not that common now, but with no action, it has the potential to become much more common—like a lot of the other MDROs [multidrug-resistant organisms] that hospitalists see regularly. [Hospitalists] have a lot of control over some of the things that could potentially lead to increased transmission.”

Part of the problem, Dr. Fishman says, is a lack of antibiotic options. Polymyxins briefly showed success against the bacteria, but performance is waning. Dr. Fishman estimates it will be up to eight years before a new antibiotic to combat the infection is in widespread use.

Listen to Dr. Fishman discuss the history of treating CRE infections and importance of antimicrobial stewardship.

Both he and Dr. Kallen say hospitalists can help reduce the spread of CRE through antibiotic stewardship, review of detailed patient histories to ferret out risk factors, and dedication to contact precautions and hand hygiene.

Dr. Kallen notes hospitalists also can play a leadership role in coordinating efforts for patients transferring between hospitals and other institutions (i.e. skilled nursing or assisted-living facilities). Part of being that leader is refusing to dismiss possible CRE cases.

“If you’re a place that doesn’t see this very often, and you see one, that’s a big deal,” Dr. Kallen says. “It needs to be acted on aggressively. Being proactive is much more effective than waiting until it’s common and then trying to intervene.” TH

Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.

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