The so-called superbug recently discovered for the first time in a woman in Pennsylvania hasn’t reached the Midwest, but the fact that the bacteria is resistant to antibiotics of last resort is a super-cause for concern.
The E. coli bacteria possessed the gene known as mcr-1, which makes it resistant to antibiotic colistin, a drug used to fight dangerous types of superbugs that can withstand other antibiotics.
It’s the first time the superbug has surfaced in a person in the United States. Researchers had reported cases of the colistin-resistant strain in pigs and raw pork and a small number of people in China. It also has been identified in Europe and elsewhere.
Scientists have warned for years about the overuse of antibiotics in people and livestock, which has led to infections and strains of bacteria that are harder to eliminate.
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Colistin is a last line of defense and far from ideal because it can cause serious damage to patients’ kidneys.
While this particular strain of E. coli bacteria has not surfaced locally, officials are right to be concerned.
Rex Archer, director of the Kansas City Health Department, said not a lot of information has been released on the superbug. His department is waiting to learn more from authorities.
Archer noted that the emergence of superbugs and other illnesses that threaten people is exactly why Congress needs to provide more funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration and other health-related agencies.
Public health threats must be prevented, and the only way to do that is to improve information sharing and the research into and stockpiling of safe and effective medications to fight any outbreak.
A study in May in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, a publication of the American Society for Microbiology, said Defense Department researchers determined that the woman in Pennsylvania carried the superbug. Authors of the article noted that the discovery “heralds the emergence of a truly pan-drug-resistant bacteria.”
Authorities said they don’t know how the strain of E. coli got in the 49-year-old woman’s body, which was discovered in April in her urine.
The CDC is among the federal agencies investigating the problem, trying to determine its origin and how to fight it if it begins to spread in humans.
The CDC will create as many as eight networks nationwide and provide funding linking government and academic laboratories testing for other antibiotic-resistant bacteria or genes.
Patient screenings have occurred to determine whether others might be carrying the superbug.
Scientists and public health officials worry because minor infections could become life-threatening, routine operations could become deadly and treating pneumonia could be more difficult.
Archer’s advice mirrors other public health officials: People should wash their hands thoroughly and carefully particularly after handling anything that might be contaminated. Also, make sure to cook food thoroughly and completely to ensure that all bacteria dies in the process.
Such practices are not cure-alls, but they certainly can’t hurt.