The first time discovery of a superbug gene in the US through a Pennsylvanian woman last month has left health officials in a frenzy.
This woman, who was taken ill with a urinary tract infection, was in fact found to be a carrier of an Mcr-1 gene, that confers on it’s host (which in this case was E.Coli) resistance towards colistin.
Colistin, is a last resort antibiotic, usually administered against a special kind of super bug carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae. While it is not commonly used owing to its ability to damage kidneys, it is the only option left to treat the aforementioned pathogen.
The difficulty of dealing with this gene lies in the fact that it can move across bacterial strains and species with the help of a little piece of bacterial DNA called a plasmid, rendering each of its new hosts with the ability to resist colistin action.
It is feared that the transfer of this gene might also result in a series of other mutations that can enable the creation of an extremely powerful superbug – a one that can withstand all types of medication and antibiotic stresses, making them almost impossible to treat.
Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says,”If such a superbug spread, it would take the world back to a time when there were no antibiotics.”
While E.Coli is usually a harmless bacteria that is commonly found in the human digestive tract, the one detected in the Pennsylvanian woman was no ordinary E.Coli. Her samples, when sent to Dr. Patrick McGann’s lab at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, USA, were found to be positive for extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL)-producing E.coli. Apart from the Mcr-1 gene, they also possessed seven other antibiotic genes that shielded them even against antibiotics like ciprofloxacin.
This gene was first detected in China and ever since then, every country has been reporting it with the latest inclusion to this list being the USA.
“A lot of experts had suspected that it was in the United States, says Dr. David Hyun,an expert on antibiotic-resistant microbes at the Pew Charitable Trusts,”because all these other countries were finding it.”
Antibiotic resistance is a problem that has been gripping the medical world for years now. According to the CDC, more than 2 million people in the US are infected by antibiotic resistant pathogens and almost 23,000 of them die annually because of it.
While in this one particular case, treatment of the infection was possible because the E.Coli still happened to be vulnerable to carbapenem, it will not be long before this gene finds it way into a cabapanem resistant bacterial species that will dispel all hopes of finding a viable cure in the near future.
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