China superbug has already gone global, Danish researcher says

Never mind that report in a scientific journal last month that a new superbug resistant to all antibiotics might go global. It already has, according to a scientific magazine.

Frank Aarestrup

Danish researcher Frank Aarestrup said he has found the mcr-1 gene in one person in Denmark and in 5 samples from poultry meat imported from Germany more than two years ago. He said the gene is the same as the one found in China, according to an article in New Scientist magazine.

The finding that bacteria with that gene were resistant to the last-standing effective antibiotic, colistin, prompted fears of apocalyptic germs spreading around the world. The discovery at Southern Agricultural University in China was believed to be the first case of mrc-1 found in humans.

That research report, published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, said the gene, not uncommon in food animals, was confined to China at that time when 16 human cases were known.

The magazine New Scientist now reports that the Danish researcher's discovery has prompted a global search for the gene in other countries. It said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is checking genetic databases for its presence, although colistin is not a drug commonly used in U.S. livestock.

The antibiotic is used in both humans and animals in India, where researchers have begun testing bacterial samples. One physician reported that he has treated infections resistant to colistin but does not yet know if the resistance was caused by the mrc-1 gene.

The article said finding the gene in India was important because of the government's weak controls on antibiotics, a factor already making the nation a hotbed for the spread of diseases.

The physician who treated the cases said it would be a disaster if the gene were found in India, according to the article. He said that when genes resistant to what had been the last-standing antibiotic carbapenem first appeared, they spread rapidly throughout India.

If the gene's presence leads to a global pandemic, infections that normally would be treated with antibiotics would become incurable unless new types of antibiotics make their way onto the market in time.

- here's the article in New Scientist