Drug-resistant intestinal illness that beats Cipro is spreading around U.S. through international travelers: CDC


America is now hosting an unwelcome visitor: a super stomach bug.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that a drug-resistant strain of shigella – a bacteria that causes the watery and bloody diarrhea-inducing illness shigellosis – is spreading around the country through international travelers.

Shigellosis, which usually lasts five to seven days but can trouble one’s bowels for months, afflicts around 500,000 Americans each year, according to a study released by CDC on Thursday. But the new strain beats ciprofloxacin, the prescription drug known commonly as “Cipro” that is employed by medical professionals as a “first-line treatment” against shigellosis, the study says.

Only about 2 percent of shigella detected in the U.S. showed resistance to Cipro previously, but a raft of new cases of the nasty bug overcame the drug nearly 90 percent of the time, according to the agency. CDC officials counted 243 Cipro-resistant cases of shigellosis in 32 states and Puerto Rico between May 2014 and February 2015, they said.

Drug-resistant infections are harder to treat and because Shigella spreads so easily between people, the potential for more – and larger – outbreaks is a real concern,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden in a statement. “We’re moving quickly to implement a national strategy to curb antibiotic resistance because we can’t take for granted that we’ll always have the drugs we need to fight common infections.”

CDC officials first tabbed antibiotic-resistant shigella as an urgent threat in 2013 in response to two other common drugs’ ineffectiveness against it, according to the agency. But ill travelers are infecting other people with the Cipro-resistant strain and causing a series of outbreaks in Massachusetts, California and Pennsylvania, agency officials say.

CDC officials tracked 243 cases of Cipro-resistant shigella between May 2014 and February 2015, according to the agency. CDC officials tracked 243 cases of Cipro-resistant shigella between May 2014 and February 2015, according to the agency.

Agency officials describe the illness, which also causes abdominal pain, fever and the sensation of needing to defecate when bowels are empty, as “very contagious” and capable of being transmitted through even microscopic exposure to infected fecal matter.

Shigellosis spreads most commonly through eating contaminated food or water, skin or food contact with infected hands or exposure to feces through sexual activities, according to a guide to the illness on the agency’s website. Men who have sex with men are more likely to contract shigellosis than the general adult population and the illness can spread quickly around childcare and homeless facilities, agency officials say.

But CDC officials offered a familiar specific recommendation to stem the transmission of the illness on Thursday.

Washing your hands with soap and water is important for everyone,” said Dr. Anna Bowen, the lead author of the CDC study, in a statement. “Also, international travelers can protect themselves by choosing hot foods and drinking only from sealed containers.”


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