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Where ‘Nightmare Bacteria’ Came From, And How Our Inattention Helped Them Emerge

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Cast your minds back a few months ago, to when the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced, “We have a very serious problem” with “nightmare bacteria,” and the chief medical officer of the United Kingdom backed him up a few days later, describing a “ticking time bomb” that threatens national security as seriously as terrorism.

Both public health chiefs were talking about a form of antibiotic resistance that is relatively new, and has suddenly emerged as much more serious — yet that the general public, and even much of the medical establishment, knows relatively little about. The acronym for this resistance is CRE, for carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae; breaking it down, that’s a family of gut-dwelling bacteria, a very common cause of hospital infections, that no longer respond to a group of last-ditch antibiotics called carbapenems.

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