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Experts urge action against ‘super bacteria’

Medical experts on Tuesday criticized health authorities for what they described as a laidback response to a deadly antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday confirmed that a total of 63 patients were infected with OXA-232-type carbapenemase-producing enterobacteriaceae, or CPE, which is known to resist even strong antibiotics.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare, however, said on Monday that the bacteria was not as “lethal” as similar strains, and was treatable with the proper use of certain drugs. A senior official said it was “not appropriate to categorize CPE as non-treatable super bacteria” and “not necessary to feel terrified,” according to reports.

In response, doctors warned that the health authorities were not fully aware of the consequences of the deadly bacteria.

“Health authorities should seriously consider the case as an alarming sign and take urgent action to prevent further spread of the lethal bacteria,” said Choi Seong-ho, professor at the division of infectious diseases of ChungAng University Medical Center.

“CPE is not like other common bacteria types harbored in the intestines. If a certain situation changes, the deadly bacteria can cause infection and could have serious consequences. Patients with an extremely low immune system or other serious diseases like cancer are the most vulnerable to the bacteria’s attack,” Choi said.

Oh Myeong-don, a professor at Seoul National University Hospital, also said that CPE was medically defined as super bacteria and posed serious health risks to patients.

“We have used the term ‘super bacteria’ even for other low-risk resistant bacteria types. So, CPE can be seen as a type of super bacteria,” Oh was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency.

The initial infection of CPE is thought to have come from a patient injured in India and later relocated to a Korean hospital. However, Choi of ChungAng Medical Center suggested that the bacteria may have developed resistance to antibiotics here, not in India.

“The antibiotic resistant bacteria genes found in India are not the OXA-232 type found in Korea,” he said.

The doctor said that Korean hospitals have become a breeding ground for antibiotic resistant bacteria because of excessive use of the drugs.

“A certain system needs to be established in order to control excessive use of antibiotics and also to prevent other bacteria developing resistance to the drugs here.”

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)
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