The Superbug Nightmare We Always Feared Is Upon Us

A new discovery “heralds the emergence of truly pan-drug resistant bacteria,” researchers say.

<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-133011737/stock-photo-e-coli-bacterial-colony-d-render.html?src=IVXyitXGU6TQJUhpr6siFg-1-5">martynowi.cz</a>/Shutterstock

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


Late last year, a team of of Chinese and UK researchers shocked the global public health world when they identified a strand of E. coli circulating among Chinese pigs that had developed resistance to colistin, a “last resort” antibiotic that’s used only to treat pathogens that can resist other antibiotics. Worse still, they found, the gene that allowed the E. coli to withstand the potent drug can easily jump to other bacterial species—including nasties like salmonella—and is “likely” to go global. The researchers didn’t mince words: “All the key players are now in place to make the post-antibiotic world a reality,” one of them told the BBC.

So, uh-oh: Researchers at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland have just found colistin-resistant E. coli in a person here in the United States. In response to the bad news from China, the Walter Reed crew had just begun in early May to screen all the E. coli samples that came through the facility’s medical-testing lab for the presence of that highly mobile colistin-resistant gene. It didn’t take them long to find a positive test, which they reported Thursday in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. The discovery “heralds the emergence of truly pan-drug resistant bacteria,” they wrote.

The discovery “heralds the emergence of truly pan-drug resistant bacteria.”

The sample came from E. coli found in a urine sample from a 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman “with symptoms indicative of” a urinary-tract infection, they reported. There’s no information on how she picked up the bacteria, but she “reported no travel history within the prior five months,” the researchers wrote.

The incident marks the first known US case of colistin-resistant bacteria in a person. The US Department of Agriculture recently reported finding it in a pig intestine. As predicted, the resistant gene, known as mcr-1, has spread rapidly across the globe. Here’s the US Department of Agriculture:

Following the revelation in China, scientists across the globe began searching for other bacteria containing the mcr-1 gene, and the bacteria have since been discovered in Europe and Canada. The mcr-1 gene exists on a plasmid, a small piece of DNA that is not a part of a bacterium’s chromosome. Plasmids are capable of moving from one bacterium to another, spreading antibiotic resistance between bacterial species.

So far, the Pennsylvania patient’s sample is the only one that has turned up positive for mcr-1, the Walter Reed researchers wrote. “However, as testing has only been ongoing for 3 weeks, it remains unclear what true prevalence of mcr-1 is in the population,” they added.

The Washington Post has more here. And make sure to check out my recent deep-dive into the long history of antibiotic use in US meat production and its connection to the unraveling of antibiotics as a tool for fighting human infections.

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate