Infection Raises Specter of Superbugs Resistant to All Antibiotics

May 30, 2016

By Sabrina Tavernise and Denise Grady

American military researchers have identified the first patient in the United States to be infected with bacteria that are resistant to an antibiotic that was the last resort against drug-resistant germs.

The patient is well now, but the case raises the specter of superbugs that could cause untreatable infections, because the bacteria can easily transmit their resistance to other germs that are already resistant to additional antibiotics. The resistance can spread because it arises from loose genetic material that bacteria typically share with one another.

“Think of a puzzle,” said Dr. Beth Bell, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “You need lots of different pieces to get a result that is resistant to everything. This is the last piece of that puzzle, unfortunately, in the United States. We have that genetic element that would allow for bacteria that are resistant to every antibiotic.”

The bacteria are resistant to a drug called colistin, an old antibiotic that in the United States is held in reserve to treat especially dangerous infections that are resistant to a class of drugs called carbapenems. If carbapenem-resistant bacteria, called CRE, also pick up resistance to colistin, they will be unstoppable.

“This is huge,” said Dr. Lance Price, a researcher at George Washington University. “We are one step away from CRE strains that cannot be treated with antibiotics. We now have all the pieces in place for it to be untreatable.”

The gene for resistance to colistin was first found in China, where the drug is used in pig and poultry farming. Researchers reported its discovery there in November. It has also been found in the intestine of one pig in the United States.

CRE is still relatively rare, causing just 600 deaths a year, but by 2013, researchers had identified it in health care facilities in 44 states. Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, often calls it the “nightmare superbug” because it is resistant to all but one antibiotic — colistin.

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One comment on “Infection Raises Specter of Superbugs Resistant to All Antibiotics”

  • I see science is fighting back, but is still in the early stages of this project.

    US scientists have re-engineered a vital antibiotic in a bid to wipe out one of the world’s most threatening superbugs.

    Their new version of vancomycin is designed to be ultra-tough and appears to be a thousand times more potent than the old drug, PNAS journal reports.

    It fights bacteria in three different ways, making it much less likely that the bugs can dodge the attack.

    It is yet to be tested in animals and people, however.

    The Scripps Research Institute team hope the drug will be ready for use within five years if it passes more tests.

    Experts have repeatedly warned that we are on the cusp of a “post-antibiotic era”, where some infections could become untreatable.

    One hard-to-treat infection that has been worrying doctors is vancomycin-resistant enterococci or VRE.

    It has been found in hospitals, can cause dangerous wound and bloodstream infections and is considered by the WHO to be one of the drug-resistant bacteria that pose the greatest threat to human health.

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