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Drug-resistant 'superbug' deemed public health threat in Travis County

Austin Public Health says an antibiotic-resistant, so-called "superbug" is emerging as a public health threat in Travis County. (Image credit: MGN Online)

Austin Public Health says an antibiotic-resistant, so-called "superbug" is emerging as a public health threat in Travis County.

There were 37 cases of Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, in 2017, with another 26 in 2018, though not all cases were found in Travis County residents.

CRE is associated with high mortality rates, in some cases 40 to 50 percent, and has the potential to spread widely. It can be transmitted from person to person on unwashed hands and medical devices.

"As you start to run out of treatments that can be effective against these infections, then you get infected with that, and there's nothing you can do," said Dr. Phil Huang, the Medical Director for Austin Public Health.

Austinites say they have never heard of anything like this bacteria.

"It is quite alarming, just wanting to know what I can do to keep myself safe," said Katie Marak.

Patients at highest risk include those in hospitals and nursing homes and those with long-term antibiotic use, compromised immune systems, or invasive devices.

"I think it's one of those things where you don't think it can ever happen to you, but then whenever something happens, and you can't control that thing, then you never know," said Jack Lytle, who also lives in Austin.

Huang says even though this bacteria spreads easily by contact, the biggest cause for it to develop is through overusing antibiotics.

"One of the messages we're really trying to get is for people not to always think that antibiotics are what they need. It's not always the answer," Huang said. "It's in our community. It's something we don't want to get more prevalent. We're sure it's out there, even more than what the number of cases."

Since 2015, the number of cases and the incidence rate of CRE in Travis County have been increasing.

For more information on CRE, click here.

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