CRE is one of 17 types of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms that kill an estimated 23,000 Americans each year. CRE isn't the deadliest of these — MRSA ranks above all, with 11,000 annual deaths — but that doesn't make CRE any less scary. There are an estimated 9,300 estimated cases of CRE each year in the United States that kill 610 patients, according to a 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it kills "up to half" of patients who get CRE bloodstream infections.
"Our strongest antibiotics don’t work and patients are left with potentially untreatable infections,” CDC director Tom Frieden said in an agency report two years ago.
CRE infections, according to the agency, typically happen in health-care facilities, among patients who need medical devices like breathing machines and catheters. Patients also taking long courses of some antibiotics face a heightened risk. In just the past decade, the rate of short-stay hospitals reporting CRE cases jumped from 1 percent to 4 percent, the CDC said in 2013.
It's hard to understate just how much these antiobitic-resistant bacteria scare the health-care community. The World Health Organization warned last year that without intervention, we could be headed for a post-antibiotic era" in which common infections become deadly. Here's a choice quote from that report: "The problem is so serious that it threatens the achievements of modern medicine." A recent worst-case scenario analysis projected that superbugs would kill 10 million people around the world each year by 2050 if this problem went unchecked.
After releasing a five-year plan to fight superbugs in the fall, President Obama earlier this month asked Congress to double federal funding for those efforts. About half of the $1.2 billion requested as part of the annual budget would go toward government agencies to help develop antibacterial drugs and diagnostic tools. Part of the proposed funding would also go to curbing the overprescribing of antibiotics, which only empowers these superbugs.