Scientists voice concern over new ’superbugs’

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

WASHINGTON - Scientists worldwide have voiced their concerns regarding the health threat caused by a fresh generation of so-called superbugs.

For instance, the gene NDM-1’s ability to affect different bacteria and make them resistant to many medications marks a worrying development in the fight against infectious diseases, which can mutate to defeat humans’ antibiotic arsenal.

“You take very common bacteria that live in all of us and can travel from person to person, and you introduce into it some of the nastiest antibiotic-resistance mechanisms there are,” The Washington Post quoted Brad Spellberg at LA Biomed as saying.

The bacteria, which include previously unseen strains of E. coli and other common pathogens, appear to have evolved in India, where poor sanitation combines with cheap, widely available antibiotics to create a fertile environment for breeding new microorganisms.

“This should not be a call to panic, but it should be a call to action. There are effective strategies we can take that will prevent the spread of these organisms,” said Arjun Srinivasan, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So far, the highly resistant gene has not jumped into bugs spread by coughing or sneezing but the microbes can spread readily through other common ways, including contaminated sewage, water and medical equipment and lax personal hygiene such as inadequate hand-washing.

Whatever be the origins of the bacteria, the real worry is the variable genetic background of NDM.

“It’s in many different organisms. There seems to be an unpredictable manner in which it’s moving around,” said Robert Bonomo, a professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University.

However, Thomas O’Brien, a microbiologist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who helps track resistant microbes for the World Health Organization, has something more positive to offer.

“It’s good that it’s been recognized and detected early, and people have been alerted to it,” he said.

“In the past, a lot of the antibiotic-resistance problems have not been noticed early and have spread fairly widely before anyone paid any attention.” (ANI)

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