'Superbug' found in Rio bay not likely to cause infection

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  • Scientists detected CRE, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, in waters where Olympic athletes will compete
  • Sewage from local hospitals deposited the "super bacteria" at two Rio de Janeiro beaches

(CNN)One month before Rio de Janeiro hosts the 2016 Olympic Games, Brazilian scientists have detected Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), a group of drug-resistant bacteria, at some of the city's beaches.

Conducting tests overseen by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the scientists flagged two beaches, Flamengo and Botafogo. Both border Guanabara Bay, where Olympic sailors will compete next month. The researchers believe that sewage from local hospitals was funneled into the bay and deposited the "super bacteria" in these areas.
    "We're not going to have an epidemic of CRE related to the Olympics," said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist. The actual risk may not be zero, he explained, but it is very small because of rather low concentrations of the bug in the water. After all, he noted, if CRE in the water so easily caused infections, "we'd have many CRE infections among Brazilians, and that's not the case."
    Carbapenems are a family of antibiotics reserved for treating serious infections. Yet certain strains of Enterobacteriaceae have developed resistance to these powerful drugs; in other words, the antibiotics no longer kill these germs. Some strains of these bacteria are resistant to all antibiotics, according to the CDC. Though very rare, their existence has been reported.
    When CRE causes serious infections, they usually come in the form of urinary tract infections, bloodstream infections, wound infections and pneumonia. Generally, these infections are picked up in hospitals or other health care settings, spread by medical devices, including intravenous tubes, urinary catheters and ventilators. Sometimes, surgical wounds become infected, and in some cases, the infection-causing germ is spread by simple person-to-person contact.
    "These watersport athletes, as soon as they get out of the water, should take a shower with soap and water," Schaffner said.
    However, the bacteria usually affect only patients with compromised immune systems or those with IV tubes. Healthy people generally aren't affected, and many people who carry the germ on or even in their bodies will never develop an infection.
    To avoid picking up these infections, the CDC recommends that you clean your hands often, especially before preparing or eating food; after using the bathroom; before and after changing bandages; and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
    "CRE is most likely to come from hospital waste, but not exclusively," Schaffner said, adding that in much of the developing world, there's nearly unrestricted use of antibiotics in hospitals and in communities. The more we use antibiotics, the more resistant these superbugs become.
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    The CDC is tracking drug-resistant bacteria throughout the United States, and finding overall that CRE is not distributed uniformly.
    "No one knows why this is," Schaffner said. However, public health officials are working with doctors to lower the numbers nationwide.