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Newly Identified Gene Enabling Bacterial Resistance to Most Antibiotics Found in South Asia, U.K., Study Finds

August 11, 2010

A study published online Wednesday in Lancet Infectious Diseases identifies a gene that enables bacteria to resist most antibiotics and calls for better global surveillance of multi-drug resistant bacteria, the Associated Press reports (8/11).

Researchers identified the resistant gene -- New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1) and "found that NDM-1 is becoming more common in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan and is also being imported back to Britain in patients returning after treatment" abroad in those countries, Reuters reports. "NDM-1 makes bacteria highly resistant to almost all antibiotics, including the most powerful class called carbapenems, and experts say there are no new drugs on the horizon to tackle it," the news service writes (Kelland/Hirschler, 8/11).

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"The gene was mostly found in E. Coli, a common cause of urinary tract infections and pneumonia," the U.K. Press Association notes. Study authors "said [NDM-1] could be easily copied and transferred between different bacteria, suggesting 'an alarming potential to spread and diversify among bacterial populations.'" There is "great" potential that the gene could become a "worldwide public health problem," the researchers wrote in the study, adding that "co-ordinated international surveillance is needed" (8/11).

Researchers also highlighted the increasing popularity of medical tourism, especially among Americans and Europeans who undergo elective procedures like cosmetic surgery in India and Pakistan. They said these exchanges also make it likely that NDM-1 could spread, the AP writes. In a related commentary in the journal, Johann Pitout, who is affiliated with the University of Calgary's division of microbiology, wrote, "The spread of these multi-resistant bacteria merits very close monitoring." According to the AP, "Pitout called for international surveillance of the bacteria, particularly in countries that actively promote medical tourism. 'The consequences will be serious if family doctors have to treat infections caused by these multi-resistant bacteria on a daily basis'" (8/11).

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