Last November researchers in China discovered a strain of bacteria that resisted all forms of antibiotics – including the “last-resort drug” colistin. Now, government officials have found the first case of an antibiotic-resistant superbug in the United States.
A 49-year-old woman in Pennsylvania went to the doctor for symptoms akin to a urinary tract infection, however the ailment did not respond to antibiotics. She had not traveled during the five months before her infection. Doctors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center obtained samples and tested them, finding they did not respond to colistin. They released a study detailing the drug-resistant bacteria.
The bacteria doesn’t respond to drugs because of a particular gene called mcr-1. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), mcr-1 “exists on a plasmid,” or a bit of DNA, and plasmids can travel between bacterium. The bacteria found in the woman had actually been infected with mcr-1 via a plasmid.
Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thomas Frieden said, “The more we look at drug resistance, the more concerned we are. The medicine cabinet is empty for some patients. It is the end of the road for antibiotics unless we act urgently. We risk being in a post-antibiotic world.”
According to Reuters, both feeding antibiotics to livestock and over-prescription have contributed to the dilemma we face. Between 30 to 50 percent of antibiotics given by doctors to patients are either needless or incorrectly prescribed. Further, drug companies haven’t been willing to shell out money for research on better antibiotics because they can make more money on drugs that combat cancer or uncommon diseases.
Reuters reports that in the United States, 23,000 people already die due to antibiotic resistance every year. Last year President Obama released the National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria, at which point the HHS said that it has been studying antibiotic resistance and is undertaking a “coordinated public health response.”
According to HHS and the USDA, a few ways to avoid antibiotic resistant bacteria are to thoroughly wash hands and produce, and properly cook all fish, meat, and poultry to kill bacteria.