A strain of bacteria resistant to all known medications has been found in the US for the first time. Experts have long warned that overuse of antibiotics is creating drug-resistant bugs increasingly difficult to control.
“We know now that the more we look, the more we are going to find. We risk being in a post-antibiotic world,” said Thomas Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, referring to the urinary tract infection of a 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman who had not travelled within the prior five months.
“We need to do a very comprehensive job of protecting antibiotics, so we can have them and our children can have them,” Frieden added.
The superbug itself had first been infected with a tiny piece of DNA called a plasmid, which passed along a gene called mcr-1 that confers resistance to colistin – doctors’ last-line of defense against hard-to-kill bacteria.
“(This) heralds the emergence of truly pan-drug resistant bacteria,” said the study, which was conducted by the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report of mcr-1 in the USA.”
The bacteria had been previously detected in the UK and Italy.
Colistin has been widely available since 1959 to treat infections caused by E. coli, salmonella, and acinetobacter, which can cause pneumonia or serious blood and infections.
It was abandoned for human use in the 1980s due to high kidney toxicity, but remains widely used in livestock farming, especially in China.
“If successfully applied at an EU level, the above threshold would result in an overall reduction of approximately 65 percent of the current sales of colistin for veterinary use,” the EMA said.
Colistin has been brought back as a treatment of last resort in hospitals and clinics as bacteria have started developing resistance to other, more modern drugs, leading to secondary infections among patients.
A major review published last week on superbugs called for new steps to address the problem, including limits on antibiotic use in agriculture and investment in finding new drugs.
jar/gsw (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)