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California outbreak highlights problem of antibiotic resistance

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KANSAS CITY, Kan.  -- An 18-year-old is among seven people infected with dangerous bacteria after having procedures with a specialized type of scope at a California hospital.   Two people have died.   The outbreak highlights risk with the scope, but also the broader issue of bacteria that can't be stopped.

Before news of the outbreak at UCLA Health System broke, the University of Kansas Hospital had already received alerts about the scope.  It's one used in the pancreas and bile ducts.  That type is used three or times a day at K.U. Hospital.   The concern was over a little crevice at the tip of the scope.

"In some institutions, those weren't being cleaned and brushed out efficiently enough," said Greg Crawford, nurse manager of the endoscopy center.

Crawford says K.U. Hospital added some cleaning steps.

"I think it's absolutely safe for patients," said Crawford.

CRE is the type of bacteria linked to the California cases.   CRE can be spread not only through medical devices, but also through wounds and stool.   When it gets into the bloodstream, it is deadly.

"We can try every antibiotic and every standard treatment for sepsis that we've got, but half of the people are not going to make it," said Dr. Lowell Tilzer, a pathologist at K.U. Hospital.

The bacteria have become resistant to even the strongest antibiotics.  Dr. Tilzer says they are even more resistant than other bacteria such as MRSA and C. diff.

"We've been overusing antibiotics for years and now we're paying the price," said Dr. Tilzer.

With CRE, the price is paid by people with weak immune systems including cancer patients.  Dr. Tilzer says we all need to be concerned and do what we can to stop superbugs.

"Keep using antibiotics only when they're absolutely necessary," he said.

Without new antibiotics, the bacteria are increasingly winning.

CLICK HERE to read additional reports about this outbreak.