Bill aims to track number of CA 'superbug' infections and deaths

An illustration of a group of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae bacteria.
An illustration of a group of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae bacteria.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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A bill pending in the state legislature would require California hospitals to start reporting all infections and deaths from antibiotic-resistant "superbugs." The measure would also require doctors to report some of these infections on death certificates.

California currently requires hospitals to report on three types of antibiotic-resistant infections, but only if the infections are acquired in the hospital. There are another 15 serious superbug infections that hospitals don't have to report.

State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) says that's why he introduced SB 43. "Without data we can't do much of anything," he says.

The bill would require hospitals to provide a yearly summary of antibiotic-resistant infections to the California Department of Public Health. And for the first time, physicians would have to list these infections on death certificates if they believed that the infection was a factor in a patient’s death.

The Department of Public Health would publish the information in an annual report. 

The purpose of the bill is to "identify where the problem areas are [and] how extensive the problem is," says Hill, who adds, "today we're shooting in the dark." He believes more data will enable the state to better respond to superbug infections.

Hill introduced similar legislation in 2014, but he says concerns about costs and standards led his fellow lawmakers to strip the tracking provisions from the bill. 

Hill says he is optimistic this time around. 

He acknowledges that "this will require a little more work on the part of hospitals," and says, "in the past [they] have been reluctant to increase their workload." But he stresses that "we want to work closely with them, they're always good partners."

The California Hospital Association has "not yet taken a position on that piece of legislation," says spokeswoman Jan Emerson-Shea, who adds, "we have and are still reviewing it."

Some California counties already require local hospitals to report some antibiotic-resistant infections.  On Thursday, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health issued an order requiring all acute care hospitals and skilled nursing facilities to provide the department with a yearly report on one type of bacteria: carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, commonly known as CRE.

CRE are causing thousands of infections and hundreds of deaths a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.