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Extremely Drug-Resistant Infections Spreading Fast

Common Bacteria Are Picking Up New Antibiotic-Resistant Gene

NDM Superbugs Spreading Fast? continued...

In the U.S., the CDC last June reported three cases of NDM bacteria isolated from U.S. patients. All of the patients were of Indian descent, and all had undergone medical procedures while visiting India for other reasons.

Are there more U.S. cases? Nobody knows, because nobody has looked very hard, says Brandi Limbago, PhD, the CDC team leader for antimicrobial resistance and characterization.

"In this country we do not have a sense of the prevalence at all. That is a concern to me, at least," Limbago tells WebMD. "The rate it is spreading in the U.K. is concerning. We don't have info on the U.S. I don't know if we should be terrified or moderately worried."

No New Drugs in Pipeline for NDM Superbugs

Walsh and colleagues isolated NDM-carrying bacteria from a Swedish patient of Indian origin who got a urinary tract infection while visiting New Delhi. They dubbed the new bug NDM-1.

To find out whether it was a freak occurrence, they collected bacteria isolated from sites in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and the U.K.

Now they report that from 1% to 4% of Gram-negative bacteria from South Asia carried the NDM gene. In the U.K., the researchers identified 37 NDM isolates from 29 patients, at least 17 of whom recently had traveled to India or Pakistan for medical procedures.

In the U.S., none of the three known NDM-bacteria-infected patients were "medical tourists" -- people who seek less expensive or more readily available medical procedures abroad. But the practice is becoming common. And Walsh, Pitout, and Limbago question the wisdom of the practice.

"This is a risk associated with medical tourism not appreciated before," Limbago says.

Pitout agrees.

"This medical tourism is a major issue. People picking up a drug-resistant bug and bringing it back is a worrying issue for me," he says. "These bugs can spread easily, especially E. coli. We are worrying that they might be spreading in the community."

Why are these experts so worried? It's because when Gram-negative bacteria become resistant to older drugs, there are no new drugs in the pipeline. And that leaves doctors with almost nothing to do for patients with serious infections.

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