There is a troubling report that six people in Colorado may have become infected with an extremely drug-resistant superbug that had been mostly been confined to people in hospitals.

The superbug is known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, a family of bacteria that are difficult to treat because they are resistant to powerful antibiotics.

So far, nearly all cases of CRE infections have been seen in people who stay health care facilities, or who have been treated with certain medical procedures or devices, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But the six people in the new report had not stayed in a health care facility for at least a year before they contracted the infection. They had not recently undergone surgery or dialysis, either, and hadn’t received any invasive devices, such as having a catheter or feeding tube inserted — all of which can be risk factors for CRE infections, the report said.

According to the CDC, more than 9,000 healthcare-associated infections are caused by CRE each year. Enterobacteriaceae are a family of bacteria that include Escherichia coli (E. coli) and which are a normal part of the human intestinal system. Carbapenem is a type of antibiotic that is frequently used to treat severe infections and often considered an antibiotic of last resort. Infections with these germs are very difficult to treat, and one report cites they can contribute to death in up to 50% of patients who become infected.

This fall, a Reuters investigative team published a detailed analysis showing that tens of thousands of superbug deaths nationwide go uncounted each year. These infections are often omitted from death certificates or are otherwise not noted because of the lack of a comprehensive surveillance program.

…Fifteen years after the U.S. government declared antibiotic-resistant infections to be a grave threat to public health, a Reuters investigation has found that infection-related deaths are going uncounted, hindering the nation’s ability to fight a scourge that exacts a significant human and financial toll.

Even when recorded, tens of thousands of deaths from drug-resistant infections – as well as many more infections that sicken but don’t kill people – go uncounted because federal and state agencies are doing a poor job of tracking them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the go-to national public health monitor, and state health departments lack the political, legal and financial wherewithal to impose rigorous surveillance.

While the current focus is on Colorado, a California legislator is trying to get ahead of the problem here by introducing bill that would mandate reporting of antibiotic-resistant infections and deaths and require doctors to record the infections on death certificates when they are a cause of death.

The legislation also aims to establish the nation’s most comprehensive statewide surveillance system to track infections and deaths from drug-resistant pathogens. Data from death certificates would be used to help compile an annual state report on superbug infections and related deaths.

…[California State Senator Jerry] Hill’s bill would require hospitals and clinical labs to submit an annual summary of antibiotic-resistant infections to the California Department of Health beginning July 1, 2018; amend a law governing death certificates by requiring that doctors specify on death certificates when a superbug was the leading or a contributing cause of death; and require the state Health Department to publish an annual report on resistant infections and deaths, including data culled from death certificates.

There was excitement over the development of the first new antibiotic in over 30 years in early 2016. However, years of trial await before it can go to market.

Until those drugs become available, the use of disposable instruments, enhanced hospital hygiene, and a greater awareness of the threat of infections are the only options left for public protection.

Let’s hope the 6 people in Colorado don’t become part of the next Reuters recap on superbug deaths, and we determine quickly how they fell ill.