New “Superbug” Gene Causing Global Concern

A gene that turns any bacteria into a powerful antibiotic-resistant “superbug” has been detected in patients of various countries including the United States, Australia, Canada, Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands. Scientists fear the gene, New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1), which is believed to have originated in India, will spread around the world.

NDM occurrence in Western nations is connected to “medical tourism,” or people traveling abroad “to find less costly medical treatments, particularly for procedures such as cosmetic surgery” (Reuters). Common symptoms include urinary tract infections and pneumonia.

“Doctors have tried treating some of these cases with combinations of antibiotics, hoping that will be more effective than individual ones…Some have resorted to using polymyxins—antibiotics used in the 1950s and ‘60s that were unpopular because they can harm the kidneys” (The Associated Press).

“What is different about NDM so far is the genetic background is very variable,” a professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University told The Washington Post, adding, “It’s in many different organisms. There seems to be an unpredictable manner in which it’s moving around.”

A Lancet Infectious Disease journal study warns, “The potential of NDM-1 to be a worldwide public health problem is great, and co-ordinated international surveillance is needed.”

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