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'Nightmare bacteria' still rare, but on the rise

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A drug-defying bacteria known as CRE is on the rise in U.S. hospitals, the Centers for Disease Control warned this week, and the problem is worsening in Minnesota, the Pioneer Press reports.

"These are nightmare bacteria that present a triple threat," said Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA Today reported. "They're resistant to nearly all antibiotics. They have high mortality rates, killing half of people with serious infections. And they can spread their resistance to other bacteria."

Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae has appeared in medical centers in 42 states. CRE has appeared in 4 percent of U.S. medical centers in the first half of 2012, a CDC fact sheet says. That rate of infection might seem low, but it has risen fourfold in just the last decade, the Los Angeles Times noted.

The number of patients in Minnesota infected with CRE more than doubled from 44 in 2011 to 90 last year, Kristin Shaw, an epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health, told the Pioneer Press.

Before 2009, there hadn't been a single case of CRE infection reported in Minnesota, the newspaper reports.

CRE can attack the body in various ways, including in the bloodstream, soft tissues, the urinary tract. It thrives in hospitals, typically taking hold in patients often via ventilators, catheters or other equipment handled by medical caregivers moving from patient to patient, the Los Angeles Times noted.

Reuters reports that the germs can easily pass their antibiotic resistance – contained in a speck of genetic material – to other kinds of germs, making additional kinds of bacteria potentially untreatable as well, CDC said.

But the spread of CRE can be prevented, and the CDC has offered guidelines to U.S. medical centers. The CDC's director this week tweeted:

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