US health officials have announced the detection of a new strain of bacteria that resists all medications and could spell doom for antibiotics.
The infection has been found in a Pennsylvania woman and has shown immunity even to colistin, the most powerful antibiotic yet.
Health authorities sounded the alarm on Thursday, saying the superbug could pose serious danger if it spreads.
“We risk being in a post-antibiotic world,” said Thomas Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), referring to the urinary tract infection of the 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman.
Frieden said her infection could not be contained even with colistin, which is reserved for use against “nightmare bacteria,” Reuters quoted him as saying.
The case was revealed in a study released by Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, a publication of the American Society for Microbiology. It said the superbug itself was first infected with a tiny piece of DNA called a plasmid, which passed along a gene called mcr-1 that confers resistance to colistin.
“(This) heralds the emergence of truly pan-drug resistant bacteria,” said the study. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report of mcr-1 in the USA.”
The patient visited a clinic on April 26 with symptoms of a urinary tract infection, according to the study, which did not describe her current condition.
“It is dangerous and we would assume it can be spread quickly, even in a hospital environment if it is not well contained,” said Gail Cassell, a microbiologist and senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School.
In the United States, antibiotic resistance has been blamed for at least two million illnesses and 23,000 deaths annually.
Experts have warned since the 1990s that especially bad superbugs could be on the horizon, but few drugmakers have attempted to develop drugs against them.
Many drugmakers have been reluctant to spend the money needed to develop new antibiotics, preferring to use their resources on medicines for cancer and rare diseases that command very high prices and lead to much larger profits, the report said.