CDC: Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are common in U.S. Here's what health officials need to do to help stop them

gloved hand holding up bacteria culture
A quick containment response is key to stopping the spread of superbugs, according to the CDC. (Getty/jarun011)

New nationwide surveillance discovered hundreds of antibiotic-resistant "nightmare bacteria," officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned this week as they urged local governments to help in the effort to fight superbugs.

In all, the CDC's Antibiotic Resistance Lab identified 221 bacteria that it dubbed "unusual," meaning the bugs could not be killed by any or most antibiotics, are uncommon in certain geographic regions or the entire U.S or are able to spread resistance to other bacteria. 

A quarter of samples tested by the lab had resistance genes that could be passed on to other bacteria, according to the study.

When the researchers further studied health facilities where these "unusual" pathogens were identified, they found that one in 10 screenings from patients with no symptoms were positive for resistant bacteria that spread easily. 

Likening the spread of the bacteria to wildfire, officials said healthcare facilities and public health agencies need to have effective containment strategies in place. Taking more aggressive action when superbugs are detected could prevent 1,600 cases of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) per state over the course of three years, the CDC estimates.

RELATED: CDC releases 5 ways hospitals can control spread of emerging superbug fungus 

"The hard truth is that as fast as we have run to slow resistance, some germs have outpaced us," said Anne Schuchat, M.D., the CDC's principal deputy director, in a press briefing Tuesday. "We've had some success, but it just isn't enough to turn the tide."

Healthcare providers should plan for and expect superbugs in their facilities and should have lines of communication open with health agencies in the event of an outbreak, the report stressed.

Officials emphasized the need for the quick identification of superbug cases, including regular internal infection control assessments at health facilities. Health officials need to know what samples labs need to test potential pathogens and make sure stakeholders are notified promptly. 

Screening protocols that flag patients who have recently traveled or were treated elsewhere can identify people most at risk for superbug infection, according to the report. 

RELATED: Alternatives to antibiotics for mild infections could curb drug resistance, study suggests 

Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are an expensive problem—with costs topping $2 billion per year based on some estimates—and are deadly, on track to kill more people than cancer by 2050. In addition to the containment strategies outlined by the CDC, providers can hinder the spread of these bugs by being more judicious with antibiotic use