Superbugs: Spreading to Younger Population

By Nancy Wurtzel

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports about two million Americans get sick every year from a superbug and about 23,000 individuals die from their illness.  Superbugs, a term coined by the media, are bacteria that are multidrug-resistant (MDR).  Read about the most common superbugs in this modernClinician article.

Most often these dangerous infections originate in a healthcare setting and are attributed to the aged or the immune suppressed, such as cancer or transplant patients.  However, health care professionals are now seeing younger, and otherwise healthier, individuals fighting a superbug.

Healthy adults usually have the ability to ward off a routine bacterial infection.  Children, however, who have less than fully developed immune systems, are in greater danger because their bodies may not yet have the ability to fight off bacteria, and they may already have a built-up tolerance due to the overuse of antibiotics.

“What the public should know is that the more antibiotics you’ve taken, the higher your superbug risk,” said Eric Biondi, MD, who runs a program to decrease unnecessary antibiotic use.  Biondi was quoted in an online article published on

Consequently, when a youth becomes sick with a more serious condition such as pneumonia, he or she may not respond well to the antibiotics available for their age group.

A recent study published in the Journal of Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society focused on 48 pediatric hospitals throughout the U.S.  Researchers combed the records of more than 94,000 different children who were diagnosed as having Enterobacteriaceae-associated infections, such as Salmonella, E-coli, and Klebsiella.  Over an eight-year period, the research team found MDR bacterial infections among children had increased, as much as sevenfold.

The infected children required extended hospital stays, about 20 percent longer on average.

Equally concerning was the origin of the infection.  A full 76 percent of the cases were documented at the time of admission – meaning the infections were not acquired in a hospital or other health environment, but rather in the larger, public community.

“Once these organisms are in the community, they will spread,” said the study’s lead author, Sharon Meropol, M.D. Ph.D. “We can catch them anywhere.”

In an interview with The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), Meropol, a pediatrician and researcher at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, noted, “There are very few antibiotics that can treat these bacteria, and it makes infections increasingly harder to treat.”

Meropol calls her study findings, “ominous.”  She added, “The incidence of infections that are multidrug-resistant is rising rapidly.”

The superbug solution isn’t simple.