While there has been much progress in the US in protecting patients from acquiring infections in hospitals and other health care settings, more effort is required, especially to tackle superbugs - bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

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The CDC say clinicians should be aware of patterns of antibiotic resistance in their particular settings, and they should follow the recommendations for preventing health care-associated infection.

This was the message the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put out this week in a new report that urges all health care providers to use a combination of infection control measures to better protect patients.

CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden says too many patients are picking up dangerous infections in health care settings. He adds:

"Doctors and health care facilities have the power to protect patients - no one should get sick while trying to get well."

The message concerns patients who are at risk of infection by serious antibiotic-resistant bacteria while they are receiving health care for other conditions. The superbugs are so dangerous that they can lead to sepsis or death.

'Urgent or serious threat'

In the new report, the CDC list six of the most deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria that they identify as urgent or serious threats. These are responsible for 1 in 7 catheter- and surgery-related HAIs, and 1 in 4 infections in long-term acute care hospitals where very sick patients tend to stay on average over 25 days.

Clostridium difficile, a type of bacteria that is responsible for most hospital infections, is not among the six because it is not resistant to antibiotics. However, it is still a threat because when patients are treated for it with antibiotics, the side effect can be deadly diarrhea.

The new report notes that C. difficile caused nearly 0.5 million infections in the US in 2011, and that efforts to decrease hospital-acquired infections with the bacterium caused numbers to fall by 8% during 2011-2014.

The six antibiotic-resistant bacteria that present urgent or serious threats are: Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE); Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA); ESBL-producing Enterobacteriaceae (extended-spectrum β-lactamases); Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE); Multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa; and Multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter.

Focus on stopping infections spreading and judicious use of antibiotics

The CDC say progress is being made in tackling the drug-resistant superbugs. Their report notes that over 2008-2014, acute care hospitals have halved central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs) and decreased surgical site infections (SSIs) of 10 procedures the CDC has been tracking by 17%.

However, there has been no change during 2009-2014 in overall catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs), although there has been some in non-ICU settings, and in the latter part of the period, there are signs of some progress in all settings, with much of it occurring toward the end of 2014.

The CDC urge all doctors, nurses, hospital managers, state and local authorities to continue the fight against HAIs. They recommend health care professionals focus on three goals in particular: prevent infection spreading between patients; prevent infection arising from surgery and catheter use; and be judicious in dispensing and using antibiotics.

The CDC have published an infographic that summarizes how to protect patients from antibiotic-resistant infections.

If necessary, patients should be isolated to prevent infection spread, they say. Clinicians should also be aware of patterns of antibiotic resistance in their particular settings, and they should follow the recommendations for preventing infection that can arise after surgery or from insertion of catheters and central lines, and correct prescribing of antibiotics.

Congress recently appropriated $160 million in new funding for the CDC to implement a national action plan for fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The funding should allow the federal body to speed up outbreak detection and prevention, improve tracking of resistant infections and mechanisms, support new research and improve stewardship of antibiotics.

Meanwhile, Medical News Today recently learned that tearing down their cell walls could be an effective way to deal with superbugs.