9 Investigates: Superbugs kill more than 20,000 people per year

Updated:

Loading

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A deadly threat lurking inside local hospitals has spurred a new warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Untreatable infections known as superbugs are killing more than 20,000 people a year.

Shawn Johnston's mother Ella was in a Maryland hospital battling leukemia.

She handled chemotherapy well then caught a superbug called CRE.

"The tremors, the high fever, sleeping something like 20 hours a day," Johnston said.

She died in April two months after her 50h wedding anniversary.

Her death certificate said she died from leukemia and the CRE infection.

"She was just like this isn't worth it to me to go through this pain and everything so she just kind of gave up (at that point)," Johnston said.

C-Diff and CRE are two of the deadliest, fastest-spreading superbugs.

They're mystifying doctors and antibiotics don't work.

The CDC is now calling the bugs a "nightmare" and "an urgent threat".

"If we lost the ability to treat infections then a simple playground injury, a car accident, that can be a death sentence," said Dr. Mike Bell with the CDC.

Channel 9 obtained federal data for 2011 showing more than 9,000 people hospitalized in North Carolina were infected with the C-Diff bacteria and 636 died -- nearly two patients a day.

In South Carolina, more than 3,000 patients were hospitalized with C-Diff and 265 died.

There are no federal rules for tracking, detecting or treating superbugs, so it's difficult to measure the threat.

The CDC recommends spore-killing disinfectant to clean rooms, like these ultraviolet lights and routine hand washing by doctors, nurses and even patients.

"I was holding on to the little bit of hope," Johnston said.

Johnston encourages patients and family members to ask about hospital cleaning procedures, which is something he wishes he would have done.

To see more on the CDC reports on superbugs, click here and click here.

To view tracking of the CRE superbug state-by-state, click here.

See all the 9 Investigates stories from Eyewitness News by clicking here