Nightly News

Nightly News   |  August 23, 2012

NIH steps up precautions after superbug attack

It’s estimated that 1.7 million Americans a year get infections in hospitals and 99,000 die as a result. At hospitals, experts says, it’s difficult to avoid infections and impossible to completely prevent them from happening. NBC’s Robert Bazell reports.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> and peach. health has revealed last year its hospital experienced an outbreak of a super germ that couldn't be treated by any medicine and it triggered a frantic effort to stop it from spreading. the story tonight from our chief science correspondent robert bazell .

>> reporter: on june 13th last year a 43-year-old woman with a lung disease was transferred into the nih clinical center. tests revealed she was infected with common bacteria called klebsiella but a rare and deadly strain.

>> this bacteria developed resistance to all known antibiotics.

>> reporter: the woman patient recovered and was discharged in july. then in august a 34-year-old man with cancer was diagnosed with the same resistant germ. after that, a frightening average of one patient a month was diagnosed despite strict infection control procedures.

>> they weren't sufficient to ensure that there weren't patient-to-patient transmissions within the icu. and that was what scared us.

>> reporter: ultimately the resistant strain infected 18 patients. 11 of them died. using the latest gene sequencing technology nih tracked the spread. a contaminated respirator was part of the problem. so were patients who harbored the bacteria for months with no symptoms. the hospital stepped up its precautions even more. doctors say the nih detective work is i impressive but this outbreak shows if it can happen at the nation's premier hospital it can and does happen almost anywhere. the cdc estimates 1.7 million americans get hospital -acquired infections every year and 99,000 die from them. many experts think those estimates are too low. maimodides hospital in brooklyn uses the best infection control -- isolation rooms, gloves, gowns, constant hand washing. but officials say it is impossible to completely prevent infection.

>> the best way to avoid hospital acquired infections is not be in a hospital unless absolutely necessary. when it is necessary to be in a hospital to leave as soon as it's indicated to leave the hospital .

>> reporter: advice that becomes more crucial as bacteria gain ever more deadly resistance to antibiotics. robert bazell , nbc news, new york.