A multidrug resistant bacterium is infecting a relatively high number of patients in long-term care hospitals in Los Angeles County in California, public health officials say.

The bacterium, called carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae (CRKP), is resistant to almost all antibiotics available to treat the infection. It has been associated with higher rates of death and longer hospitals stays, the researchers say. The bacteria is known to cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections and meningitis. It is difficult, but not impossible, to treat.

CRKP is not new. But previously, it was thought to be limited to the East Coast of the United States, the researchers say. Researchers have not systematically monitored this bacteria on a national scale. This was the first time public health officials in Los Angeles had required laboratories to report the presence of this bacteria.

The bacterium is just one of a growing number of pathogens that are resistant to multiple antibiotics . However, CRKP is not necessarily more serious than other multidrug resistant organisms, Jonathan Fielding, director of public health for Los Angeles County, said in a news conference about the findings.

The study "adds weight to the general concerns regarding overuse of antibiotics ," Fielding said, "and highlights the importance of continued surveillance and efforts to try to reduce both the overuse of antibiotics and increased investment in new antibiotics," he said.

The findings will be presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America in Dallas on April 3.

Between June and December 2010, 350 cases of CRKP were identified in the county. This rate was unexpectedly high. Forty-two percent were from long-term acute care centers and 6 percent were from nursing homes.

Patients who get CRKP tend to be elderly, stay in hospitals for long periods of time, and be on ventilators, according to Dr. Dawn Terashita, of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Since this was the first time rates of CRKP in the county had been studied, the researchers don't know how they compare with previous years. They suspect the rates are increasing, but more research is needed to confirm this, Fielding said.

The researchers also do not know why the rates are high, but will continue to monitor the bacteria.

They want to educate physicians and the public how antibiotics should be used, Fielding said.

"We need to educate the public because, in many cases, antibiotics are prescribed because the patients really demand them or strongly ask for them," Fielding said. If patients do go on antibiotics, they should finish the full course of their medication, he said.

Both patients and physician should practice frequent hand-washing to reduce transmission of drug-resistant bacteria, Fielding said.

Pass it on: High rates of CRKP, a multidrug resistant bacteria, have been found in Los Angeles county. However, it is not necessarily more serious than other types of drug-resistant bacteria.

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