Wednesday, August 11, 2010

New bacterial gene could increase antibiotic resistance, pose a public health problem

The Associated Press is reporting a new “suberbug gene” called NDM-1 which can be transmitted to many bacteria and which can make many common bacteria (staph, e-coli, etc) resistant to almost all known antibiotics.

The gene seems to occur in India and Pakistan, and might be brought back to Europe, the UK, and eventually the US and Canada through “medical tourism.”

The Washington Post ran the AP story, orginal link here (from Mississippi) on Aug. 11.

The problem could make, for example, ordinary dental infections had to treat. Or it might lead to more superbug "flesh eating" bacteria infections, as in horror movies, and impossible to treat without amputations.

A problem like this exists with MRSA in hospitals and in sports locker rooms, with hospital patients being screened by nasal swabs for MRSA and treated with extra hygiene procedures and visitor restrictions. Yet, MRSA is common in the general population and causes no symptoms in many people, whose immune systems seem to keep it in check.

The presence of bacteria amplified by a gene like NDM-1 could greatly complicate public health and infection control.

The Lancet article is at this link. The title is “Emergence of a new antibiotic resistance mechanism in India, Pakistan, and the UK: a molecular, biological, and epidemiological study”, and there are numerous authors listed.

Similarly, public health officials have become concerned about drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis, untreated TB is undetected and walled-off in many people for decades, only activated after some event (HIV, malignancy, chemotherapy) releases it; but mutations could lead to more drug resistance (as with the Andrew Speaker case, as in this blog discussion link.

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