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Can hospitals do anything to combat so-called superbugs?

When people in Kentucky or Ohio are ill enough to be admitted to a hospital, it's logical for them to assume that they will not get sicker merely from being admitted to a hospital. However, a strain of drug-resistant bacteria known by the ominous nicknames researchers have given them -- "superbugs" -- is making a hospital visit potentially dangerous.

This summer, seven people died in an outbreak at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center near the nation's capital. Seven people also died at the University of Virginia Medical Center in an outbreak. However, these are not isolated cases; the bacteria have shown up in hospitals all across the country.

The bacteria have the ability to fight off the type of antibiotics that doctors and other health professionals use as a last resort against infection. Those with immune systems that are week, such as the elderly, are the natural targets for these bacteria. As of yet, researchers have been unable to find an effective cure for the aggressive bugs. And they are taking a severe toll: Some estimate the death rate of people who contract an infection from the bacteria at about 40 percent.

At this stage of the game, researchers are on their heels trying to combat the superbugs. There aren't yet any uniform guidelines for reporting outbreaks, and medical coding hasn't caught up with the diagnosis yet either. So figuring out where it might strike next has become a virtual impossibility.

Another stumbling block might be drug companies. There is little incentive for them to create a new medicine that, once administered, effectively cures the patient. Money in the pharmaceutical industry is made from drugs that treat chronic illness and are taken for a person's lifetime.

Source: USA Today, "Deadly 'superbugs' invade U.S. health care facilities," Peter Eisler, Nov. 29, 2012

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