The rate of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae cases in community hospitals in the southeastern United States has increased fivefold since 2008, according to a report in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

CRE are a family of germs that are difficult to treat because they have high levels of resistance to antibiotics. Klebsiella species and Escherichia coli (E. coli) are examples of Enterobacteriaceae, a normal part of the human gut bacteria, that can become carbapenem-resistant.

“This dangerous bacteria is finding its way into health care facilities nationwide,” Joshua Thaden, MD, of the division of infectious diseases at Duke University, said in a press release. “Even this marked increase likely underestimates the true scope of the problem given variations in hospital surveillance practices. A CRE epidemic is fast approaching and we must take immediate and significant action in order to limit the transmission of these dangerous pathogens throughout our hospitals and acute care facilities.”

Thaden and colleagues evaluated CRE surveillance data collected prospectively at 25 community hospitals throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia from 2008 to 2012. During this time, 305 CRE isolates were detected at 16 of the hospitals. Symptomatic CRE infection was seen in 180 cases and asymptomatic colonization was found in the other 125 cases. The most prevalent species was Klebsiella pneumoniae (91%), and most cases (94%) were health care-associated.