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Antibiotic resistance: The last resort

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Health officials are watching in horror as bacteria become resistant to powerful carbapenem antibiotics — one of the last drugs on the shelf.

As a rule, high-ranking public-health officials try to avoid apocalyptic descriptors. So it was worrying to hear Thomas Frieden and Sally Davies warn of a coming health “nightmare” and a “catastrophic threat” within a few days of each other in March.

The agency heads were talking about the soaring increase in a little-known class of antibiotic-resistant bacteria: carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CREs). Davies, the United Kingdom's chief medical officer, described CREs as a risk as serious as terrorism. “We have a very serious problem, and we need to sound an alarm,” said Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia.

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