World’s Scariest Superbug Officially Contained

Imagine being admitted into the hospital for an illness—as serious as cancer or as minor as a broken leg. When we go into the hospital we expect we’ll get better. But, for 18 people at a leading research hospital, they got worse.

Six of them died from the superbug known as KPC before doctors could find answers. And, it was all due to one patient who was admitted with a germ so deadly, even the most powerful antibiotic couldn’t fight it.

What makes the case so unbelievable is that it took place at NIH Clinical Center, a hospital that only treats people enrolled in government research studies in Washington’s suburbs. Each patient is carefully screened before entry.

Yet, a study patient transferred from a NYC hospital tested positive for the superbug after she was admitted. She became patient A and went into strict isolation. She recovered weeks later and went home. All seemed well. Then, Patient B who never crossed paths with Patient A, fell ill with the germ at the same hospital. Standard testing couldn’t determine the link, so scientists turned to DNA.

Klebsiella bacteria can be found in human intestines, but normally isn’t a threat to those with healthy immune systems. KPC (Klebsiella pneumonia) is strain that emerged over the past 10 years and has proven resistant to multiple drugs. Instead, it kills those it sickens and spreads easily through the urinary tract or bloodstream.

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health did everything they could to locate the source of the bug—patients were locked down, plumbing was ripped out, and all hospital devices bleached.

Finally, with detailed genetic research, they found it: hiding in sink drains and a ventilator that had already been cleaned with bleach.

Dr. Sara Cosgrove, an associate hospital epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University was impressed with the hospital’s findings. “They were able to demonstrate that this sneaky little bug was able to stay alive and get transmitted in ways they hadn’t quite predicted before they had the detailed genetic information.”

The outbreak is now over and the hospital is sharing its story in hopes other hospitals can learn from them and keep KPC from spreading at their hospitals.

To read the entire in-depth story which started last year, click here.