Earlier this month (September 7), the seventh person in just over a year lost his life due to infection by an antibiotic-resistant strain of the bacterium Klebsiella pneumoniae. The deadly infection first struck at the Bethesda, Maryland-based National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in August 2011 when a woman from New York in need of a lung transplant was killed. Five more victims followed over the next 6 months, but the latest fatality—a young boy from Minnesota—suggests that the lethal bacterium has not yet left the building.
NIH researchers used whole genome sequencing to confirm that the boy’s death was a result of the same strain of K. pneumonia. “This kid probably got this infection because a patient who was a carrier [of the superbug] was on the same unit,” John Gallin, the director of the clinical center, told The Washington Post. “There was undoubtedly some intrahospital transmission despite our best efforts.”
Those efforts included isolating infected patients, using vaporized disinfectant in patient rooms, replacing plumbing that officials suspected harbored the superbug, and hiring people to oversee doctors and nurses as they scrubbed their hands prior to seeing patients. When no new infections arose between January and July of this year, researchers thought they had the bacterium, which is impervious to all known antibiotics and at least one experimental one, under control. But on July 25, the boy tested positive for the superbug. In total, 19 patients were infected and 11 died, though only seven of those deaths could be directly attributed to the bacterium.
The researchers published their findings last month (August 22) in Science Translational Medicine—the first time the outbreak was made public.