Hospitals' superbug-infected sewage may threaten California communities

Adding to California hospitals' superbug-related woes, sewage plants are failing to kill the antibiotic-resistant infections after they leave hospitals, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Environmental Protection Agency scientists announced they discovered carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE), the same superbug tied to a Los Angeles-area outbreak in an undisclosed sewage treatment facility in the area. Research increasingly suggests that far from successfully killing drug-resistant bacteria, sewage treatment facilities often make them stronger, Pedro Alvarez, a professor of environmental engineering at Rice University, told the Times. Chlorine, the treatment such plants typically use, is not killing the superbugs, he said, and sewage facilities' failure to eliminate superbugs may be a major factor in their spread from hospitals to the community at large.

Eight percent of people infected with CRE have not recently visited a hospital, and hospitals' release of sewage carrying the bacteria is hard to regulate, since there is no law specifically pertaining to antibiotic-resistant bacteria levels in sewage, according to the article. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials said they are aware of the studies but have not yet made any major decisions on how hospitals should treat sewage that may contain CRE, according to the article.

"The prevention and control of CRE is an evolving process," CDC Spokeswoman Melissa Brower told the Times. "CDC will continue to assess the appropriateness of this as new information becomes available."

While the Ebola virus threat in healthcare settings has largely ebbed, the situation echoes a similar quandary to fall of 2014, when hospitals found themselves without a plan for disposing of Ebola-related medical waste.

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