Meet the “Nightmare Bacteria”


October 22, 2013

Over time, bacteria can become resistant to the antibiotics that once killed them.

The most dangerous today are resistant Gram-negative bacteria, which have stronger structural defenses.
Some Gram-positive bacteria also show high levels of resistance.

Here are some of the more troubling bugs out there today…

Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriacae


Why it’s so scary: A family of Gram-negative bacteria that live in the gut, CREs are increasing in frequency and have become resistant to all or nearly all the antibiotics we have today.

Multidrug Resistant Acinetobacter baumannii

AKA: Acinetobacter

Why it’s so scary: This Gram-negative bacteria appeared in the United States after Iraq and Afghanistan war vets returned home. Acinetobacter is tough enough to survive even on dry surfaces like dust particles, making it easy to pass from host to host, especially in hospital environments.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa

AKA: P. aeruginosa

Why it’s so scary: A bacteria linked to serious infections in the bloodstream or in surgical wounds, it can lead to pneumonia and other dangerous complications. Some Pseudomonas strains are resistant to nearly every family of antibiotics.

Clostridium Difficile

AKA: C. Diff

Why it’s so scary: A Gram-positive, C. Diff can live in the gut without causing symptoms before it attacks patients with weakened immune systems. It’s growing — infections increased 400 percent between 2000 and 2007 — and becoming increasingly resistant.

Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus


Why it’s so scary: This Gram-positive bacteria infects about 80,000 people each year and can lead to sepsis and death. MRSA infections have dropped significantly in hospital settings, but in the past decade have increased rapidly in the community.

Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis


Why it’s so scary: One of the world’s most common infectious diseases, TB spreads easily through the air when infected people cough or sneeze. It’s increasingly becoming resistant to the drugs used to treat it.

Data Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
All medical illustrations provided by the CDC

Sarah Childress

Sarah Childress, Series Senior Editor, FRONTLINE



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