Superbug known as “Phantom Menace” on the rise

Screen Shot 12-15-15 at 03.14 PMA particularly dangerous superbug, dubbed the “phantom menace” by scientists, is on the rise in the United States, according to a report Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This superbug’s strains belong to the family of bacteria known as CRE, which are difficult to treat because they are often resistant to most antibiotics. They are often deadly, too, in some instances killing up to 50 percent of patients who become infected, according to the CDC. Health officials have called CRE among the country’s most urgent public health threats.

The target of Thursday’s report is relatively new. Unlike more common types of CRE, it carries a plasmid, or mobile piece of DNA, with an enzyme that breaks down antibiotics. And what makes these bacteria even more dangerous is their ability to transfer that plasmid–and that antibiotic resistance–to normal bacteria that are present in our bodies.

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This type of CRE has had a lower profile because it’s actually less antibiotic-resistant than other more common types of CRE. As a result, it hasn’t been a frequent focus of testing and has largely escaped detection by health officials, prompting some researchers to dub it “the phantom menace.

“This is a tricky drug-resistant bacteria, and it isn’t easily found,” CDC Director Thomas Frieden said in an interview. “What we’re seeing is an assault by the microbes on the last bastion of antibiotics.”

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Leo Ashcraft

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