‘Superbug’ E. Coli Reaches United States!!!
An antibiotic-resistant strain of E. Coli showed up last month in the urine of a 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman. Defense Department researchers have now announced that she carried a strain of E. coli resistant to the last resort antibiotic colistin.
Colistin is the antibiotic reserved for the most dangerous types of superbugs, including a family of bacteria known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, which health officials have dubbed “nightmare bacteria.” These superbugs kill up to 50 percent of infected patients.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called CRE among the country’s most urgent public health threats.
Researchers believe that the antibiotic-resistant gene found in the bacteria, known as mcr-1, could easily spread to other types of bacteria that can already evade other antibiotics.
This is the first reported colistin-resistant strain found in a person in the United States. Last November, public health officials worldwide sounded the alarms when Chinese and British researchers reported finding the colistin-resistant strain in pigs, raw pork meat and in a small number of people in China. The deadly strain was later discovered in Europe, Africa, South America and Canada.
“It basically shows us that the end of the road isn’t very far away for antibiotics — that we may be in a situation where we have patients in our intensive-care units, or patients getting urinary tract infections for which we do not have antibiotics,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in an interview Thursday.
“I’ve cared for patients for whom there are no drugs left. It is a feeling of such horror and helplessness,” Frieden added. “This is not where we need to be.”
Compounding the situation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Health and Human Services Department have discovered the same colistin-resistant bacteria in a sample from a pig intestine in the United States. The USDA said it is working to determine the pig’s farm of origin.
The CDC and Pennsylvania health authorities are interviewing the patient and family to identify how she may have become infected with the bacteria, including reviewing recent hospitalizations and other health-care exposures. CDC hopes to screen all recents contacts to see if others might be carrying the organism, while local and state health departments collect cultures as part of the investigation. Regardless, a spokeswoman for Pennsylvania Department of Health said the agency could not legally disclose specific details about an individual case investigation.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf claims his administration immediately began working with the CDC and Department of Defense to coordinate “an appropriate and collaborative” response.
“We are taking the emergence of this resistance gene very seriously,” he said, adding that authorities will take all necessary actions to prevent it from becoming a widespread problem with “potentially serious consequences.”
The Chinese regularly use colistin in livestock, which probably led various strains of bacteria to evolve and gain a resistance to the drug. The gene probably leaped from livestock to human microbes through food, said Yohei Doi, an infectious-disease doctor at the University of Pittsburgh who has studied the problem.
“Food handlers may be at higher risk,” he said. In places like China, where live animal markets are often in close proximity to food stalls, it may be more likely for the bacteria to spread from animals to humans. He and other infectious disease experts called for speedier action to curb the mishandling of antibiotics in livestock.
“It’s hard to imagine worse news for public health in the United States,” Lance Price, director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center and a George Washington University professor said in a statement Thursday about the Pennsylvania case. “We may soon be facing a world where CRE infections are untreatable.”
Scientists rang the alarm bells about the gene in November, but they fell on deaf ears. “Now we find that this gene has made its way into pigs and people in the U.S.,” Price said. “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.”
Scientists and public health officials have been warning for years that if resistant bacteria continue to spread, treatment options could be seriously limited. Routine operations may become deadly. Minor infections might blossom into life-threatening crises.
Doctors rely on colistin as a last resort against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The drug is hardly ideal. It is more than half a century old and damages kidneys. However, since doctors have run out of weapons to fight a growing number of infections that evade more modern antibiotics, it has become a critical tool in fighting off some of the most rigorous infections.
“This is definitely alarming,” said David Hyun, a senior officer leading an antibiotic-resistance project at the Pew Charitable Trust. “The fact that we found it in the United States confirms our suspicions and adds urgency to actions we need to work on antibiotic stewardship and surveillance for this type of resistance.”
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