Recent news about a superbug has some health professionals and researchers worried. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
A Pennsylvania woman, 49, was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection recently; UTIs are very common. However, after a lab analysis to find the responsible germ, it was discovered that her urine contained a bacteria that can survive colistin, a “last resort” antibiotic, which, up until now has effectively killed dangerous superbugs.
This particular case is not a cause for alarm. The particular bacteria strain of E.coli that has infected this woman can be treated with other antibiotics. The danger is that a drug-resistant gene, called mcr-1 found in the DNA of the bacteria, can easily spread to other types of bacteria, making them resistant as well. This is one of the greatest health concerns in America today.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Pennsylvania health officials are investigating this case. They are interviewing the patient, her family and other contacts, and are collecting cultures. Investigations by the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services have turned up colistin-resistant bacteria in a pig’s intestine in this country. They are trying to track down the farm it came from.
Meanwhile, in California and 18 other states, another very dangerous antibiotic resistant bacteria strain called Carbapenum-resistant Enterobecateriaceae (CRE) infected 43 people between 2010 and 2015. Frieden believes this is “just the tip of the iceberg.” This outbreak has been incorrectly dubbed the “phantom menace virus” (it’s not a virus, it’s bacteria) because it has been hard to detect and has not been studied as much. However, CRE can transfer resistance to the normal bacteria found in the human digestive system.
CDC Director, Thomas Frieden, stated that there must be a “global effort” to combat antibiotic resistance. “It basically shows us that the end of the road isn’t very far away for antibiotics – that we may be in the situation where we may have patients in our intensive care units, or patients getting urinary tract infections for which we do not have antibiotics . . . I’ve cared for patients for whom there are no drugs left. It is a feeling of such horror and helplessness. This is not where we need to be.”
“Now we find that this gene has made its way into pigs and people, and people in the United States,” says the director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center, Lance Price, referring to the case in Pennsylvania. “If our leaders were waiting to act until they could see the cliff’s edge – I hope this opens their eyes to the abyss that lies before us.”
In November, 2015, colistin-resistant bacteria were found in China in pigs, raw pork and people. Researchers later found the bacteria in Europe and elsewhere. Chinese farmers routinely use colistin in their livestock, where the bacteria eventually develop resistance and jump to humans, probably through food. A connection to other cases in the world has not been made.
The best advice at this point is to always wash hands before handling food, while cooking, and before eating. Always cook food thoroughly. Also, don’t be too alarmed – cooking kills bacteria, and even if they reach the stomach, the acid will kill more. Some health news articles and articles by activists urge the public not to purchase meat and poultry, which has been treated with antibiotics.