Travel for Surgery May Help Spread New Superbug

WEDNESDAY Aug. 11, 2010 -- A gene that makes bacteria resistant to almost all antibiotics has appeared in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, researchers have found.

The so-called NDM-1 gene has also been identified in the United Kingdom in patients who underwent surgery in India.

Researchers warn that the appearance of the antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria is worrisome because it could spread around the world due to the fact that people in Europe and the United States often travel internationally for medical procedures.

The researchers, led by Timothy Walsh of Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, first discovered the gene in 2009 in samples of pneumonia and E. coli bacteria taken from a Swedish patient in India. The bacteria with the gene resist various types of antibiotics, including those specifically designed to treat infections caused by drug-resistant germs.

The researchers found signs of the bacteria in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom. It was most commonly found in a pneumonia strain and an E. coli strain that commonly causes urinary tract infections.

In some cases, the germs resisted all antibiotics, according to the report released online Aug. 11 in advance of publication in the September print edition of The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

The study authors noted that the U.K. patients with NDM-1-producing antibiotic-resistant bacteria had traveled to India or Pakistan for surgery, including cosmetic surgery. Because it is common for people from Europe and the United States to travel internationally for such surgeries, NDM-1 "will likely spread worldwide," Walsh and colleagues concluded.

Whether the bacteria will actually become a major threat is "difficult to really tell at this moment in time, but the potential is there for it to become a worrisome issue," Dr. Johann Pitout, a University of Calgary microbiologist, said in an interview.

If the germs do spread, their existence will have "serious future implications" on how hospitals deal with infections, noted Pitout, who also authored a commentary accompanying the study.

More information

For more on drug-resistant bacteria, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Posted: August 2010


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