‘Superbug’ found in 13 hospitals, 63 patients

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‘Superbug’ found in 13 hospitals, 63 patients

One of the dreaded “superbugs” - bacteria that can’t be killed by antibiotics - has shown up in Korea and infected at least 63 people.

But so far, no Korean patient has shown serious symptoms from the infection.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the variant of Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, appeared to have entered the country via a Korean patient who spent time in a hospital in India, where superbugs have become a major problem.

After identifying it in the first patient, the disease control agency told all hospitals with more than 200 beds to check their records for resistant bacteria. It found that CRE had spread to 63 patients from 13 different hospitals, the center said.

The variant is called OXA-232 and it was first identified in France in patients who had been transferred from Mauritius or India, according to the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.

This is the first time “super bacteria” or a “superbug” was detected in Korea, the agency said.

“Some local reports said that the variant is more lethal than other types, but that’s not true,” an official from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “The subtype is just as dangerous as the typical CRE.”

CRE is resistant even to last-resort drugs such as carbapenem and can potentially be deadly, afflicting the bloodstream, soft tissues and the urinary tract.

And yet, the agency said the Korean patients didn’t show serious symptoms associated with the bacteria.

The majority of the 63 patients were in the same hospital as the patient who came from India and received care for serious conditions in the hospitals. The Ministry of Health and Welfare said the bacteria is unlikely to be a serious threat to ordinary people but warned of danger for people with weak immune systems.

But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that up to half of patients who develop a bloodstream infection from CRE die, describing the bacteria as a “nightmare.”

The detection of the superbug called into question hospitals’ ability to contain resistant bacteria.

“The fact that it was transmitted to some 20 to 30 patients in one hospital exposes the vulnerability of some hospitals to such resistant bacteria,” a source at the health ministry was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency.

The Health Ministry plans to require all hospitals and health-care facilities to report how they protect their patients from resistant bacteria on a regular basis.

BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]
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