John Tozzi for Bloomberg
Just two months ago, researchers in China identified a gene that can make bacteria resistant to a last-resort antibiotic called colistin. It was a bombshell discovery for people who follow superbugs. Now that gene has been detected in at least 19 countries, and scientists are alarmed.
Colistin is what doctors give you in the U.S. when nothing else works. Because it’s toxic, it can have some harmful side effects, but colistin can help defeat infections that shrug off every other antibiotic in their arsenal. If bacteria resist everything, including colistin, you’re out of luck.
Since the paper identifying colistin-resistant E. Coli in China was published in the the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal on Nov. 18, the gene has been detected in 19 countries in bacteria from farm animals, retail meat, or humans, according to a new tally by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which advocates for reducing the use of antibiotics in farm animals. It is in Southeast Asia, Europe, Canada, and Japan.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria sicken 2 million Americans each year and kill 23,000, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control. These are such bugs as CRE (Carbapenum-resistant Enterobacteriaceae) or MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).
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