Protect Yourself From Hospital Acquired Infections

As if patients, providers, and healthcare organizations didn't have enough to worry about with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Clostridioides difficile (C. diff), and other hospital-acquired infections. Now, another nosocomial infectious agent has made an appearance in U.S. hospitals: Carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae (CRKP). CRKP is a type of gram-negative bacteria that have developed antibiotic resistance to a class of antibiotics known as carbapenems and can cause infections in healthcare settings such as pneumonia, bloodstream infections, wound or surgical site infections, and meningitis.

Smiling doctors in discussion in hospital
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CRKP is considered a major infection threat to patient safety. While the numbers of infected patients aren't as large as the numbers of patients who acquire the better-known superbugs like MRSA, C. diff, vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), and others, by early 2011 CRKP had already been identified in hospitals in 36 states. (See a map of states reporting cases of CRKP.)

CRKP and other infections under the category of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) are superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics, and patients who acquire them are at risk of death, usually within 30 days. Death rates from this newer superbug have been reported to be between 30 and 44%.

So far, CRKP infections seem confined to healthcare facilities—both acute-care hospitals and long-term care facilities. The elderly and others who are immunocompromised are at greater risk of contracting it. Since it is not considered a reportable infection by the CDC, the numbers of patients and deaths are very likely under-reported.

Treatment for CRKP Infections

One drug, actually an older antibiotic called colistin, has been used with limited success on patients who have acquired CRKP. The problem is that the drug has toxic side effects which are destructive to the kidneys. The elderly and other patients who are immunocompromised may be particularly harmed by these effects.

Another drug called tigecycline was developed in 2005 but is limited in its effectiveness because it doesn't work well in all tissues.

Prevention of CRKP Infection

The best way to prevent the transfer of CRKP is by following the standard prevention recommendation for any infection: hand-washing and sanitizing, but also, generally avoiding the overuse of antibiotics in the first place. Remember that antibiotics shouldn't be used to treat viral infections. Hospitals have specific protocol for hand-washing and sanitizing depending on fluid contact and infection, and if you're in a hospital, be sure to wash and sanitize your hands frequently, as well.

There are other important steps to take to prevent hospital-acquired infections that include items to pack, and activities to undertake when arriving at the hospital. Because infections are so rampant in hospitals, and because too few hospitals take the necessary steps to prevent them, patients must take responsibility for preventing infections themselves. Wise patients learn the steps to take to prevent hospital-acquired infections.

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By Trisha Torrey
 Trisha Torrey is a patient empowerment and advocacy consultant. She has written several books about patient advocacy and how to best navigate the healthcare system.