A Superbug Resistant to 26 Antibiotics Takes Life of Elderly Woman

A Superbug Resistant to 26 Antibiotics Takes Life of Elderly Woman

The CDC released a report January 12 detailing the death of an elderly Nevada woman who was taken by carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), a superbug resistant to 26 antibiotics available in the U.S. It’s a frightening reminder of the growing problem of drug resistance, which threatens to overtake cancer deaths by 2050.

The woman, in her 70’s, was initially hospitalized in India with a leg fracture, which resulted in an infection in the bone. Nothing – including colistin, the “last resort” drug that doctors pull out when all other antibiotics fail – would touch the infection. [1]

Healthcare workers isolated the woman in the hospital so she could not infect other patients. Fortunately, samples have indicated that the bacteria did not spread.

After the woman’s death, doctors tested the bacteria that caused her infection and found it was somewhat susceptible to fosfomycin, an antibiotic that is not approved in the U.S. to treat her type of infection.

The worst type of colistin-resistance is caused by the mcr-1 gene, which sits on a free-floating DNA called a plasmid. Different kinds of bacteria species can pass this plasmid back and forth and spread like wildfire. Those bacteria can go on to spread resistance, as well.

It’s not just people infecting other people, it’s bacteria infecting other bacteria. The bacteria can lie in your intestines until the opportunity to infiltrate the whole body presents itself.

Washoe County Health District spokesman Phil Ulibarri explained:

“If you’re a person who is older, who is immune suppressed … then you can have an issue if the bug gets away from your immune system” because there’s no treatment available. [2]

The bacteria that infected the woman in Nevada did not have the mcr-1 gene, however, and it’s unclear how they became resistant. [1]

Source: Natural Resources Defense Council

The first known case of a superbug in the U.S. that was resistant to all antibiotics appeared last April in a 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman. Other people in the U.S. are likely harboring the bacteria, because the woman hadn’t traveled outside of the country in the 5 months prior to her diagnosis.


[1] The Atlantic

[2] Las Vegas Review-Journal

Natural Resources Defense Council