SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - A potentially deadly superbug is spreading throughout hospitals across the country and cases have shown up at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara.
The bacteria is called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae or CRE, and it has become increasingly resistant to all or nearly all antibiotics.
The Centers for Disease Control are asking for health care facilities across the country to take action.
The infections aren't just hard to treat, in some cases they are untreatable.
The so-called "nightmare bacteria" are drug-resistant germs from the intestines. It spreads when there is excessive antibiotics use and then that bacteria no longer responds to treatment. It also spreads when health care workers don't wash their hands.
At Cottage Hospital within the past 12 months, two people became infected and six had the bacteria in their system but did not develop an infection.
The two patients with the CRE at Cottage are no longer at the hospital. It's not known if they died from their infections or got better. A hospital spokesperson told NewsChannel 3, the hospital can only give out the status of current patients. What is known is that the patients were at the hospital for other major illnesses before being infected with the drug-resistant bacteria.
"What has us very concerned though is that once they're in the hospital, visitors can be in contact with patients and they get colonized or they end up with the bacteria on them or in them, and it ends up in the community," said Dr. Alan Sugar, infectious disease physician at Sansum Clinic.
That hasn't happened yet in Santa Barbara County. To keep it from occurring, patients with those germs are kept in isolation and caretakers wear gowns and gloves.
Sugar said prevention is as easy as good hygiene.
"Hand sanitizer and washing hands with soap and water is a very effective strategy keeping people safe," he said.
According to the CDC, up to half of people who get infected die.
"Well, they can cause serious infections and the antibiotics that we have left to treat these multi-drug resistant organisms are not as good as the first line agents," explained Dr. Sugar.
The rate of infection is on the rise. In the past decade, infections have increased from 1 to 4 percent.
The CDC is asking health care providers to watch for infections and to take steps to prevent the spread.