An antibiotic-resistant superbug bacterium that is resistant to colistin (polymyxin E), the last resort antibiotic, was found in a US patient with a urinary tract infection (UTI). This is not the first case of colistin-resistant bacteria. The US has seen a number of cases of colistin-resistant bacteria over the past ten years.

However, according to a study published on May 26th, 2016, in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, this is the first case of plasma-mediated colistin resistance. This new species of bacteria contains a gene called mcr-1, which enables bacteria to be resistant to colistin. The gene is carried on a piece of DNA called plasmid that can be rapidly exchanged between organisms so that other bacteria can become resistant.

The highly resistive strain was found last month in April, in the urine of a 49-year-old woman from Pennsylvania. Department of Defense researchers determined that her infection involved a strain of E.coli resistant to the antibiotic colistin. According to the authors of the study, the discovery of these resistive strains of bacteria calls for a state of emergency.

Officials from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are working with Pennsylvania health authorities to interview the patient and her family to try to understand how she may have contracted the bacteria by inspecting recent screenings, cleanliness of healthcare facilities and environmental factors. CDC is planning to screen the patient and other potential affectees with the help of local and state health departments.

Antibiotic-Resistant Superbug Found

This bug, dubbed ‘Nightmare Bug’ by health officials, belongs to a family of bacteria known as carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE), an important threat to public health. Common enterobacteriaceae include the Klebsiella species and Escherichia coli (E. coli). In some cases these strands can kill 50% of the infected population.

According to Sarah Fortune, Professor of Immunology and Infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School, health experts should be wary of this particular case of antibiotic resistance. The media is not giving much attention to it and high-level resistance bacterium. If ignored, such bacterium can become major issues. Fortune believes that medical professionals can take the high number of effective antibiotics available in their arsenal for granted. However, they need to be mindful, since many bacteria can develop resistance to these antibiotics.

Bacteria develop antibiotic resistance in two ways. Many acquire mutations in their own genomes that allow them to withstand antibiotics, although that ability can’t be shared with pathogens outside their own family. The other way is the way in which the superbug reproduces — by manipulating plasmids.

Who Is At Risk?

Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy are at a higher risk since their immune systems are compromised, so they can routinely get sick from bacterial infections. As far as the general public is concerned, they have to be cautious of hospitals, clinics and healthcare facilities due to the higher probability of bacteria and airborne diseases. These resistant strains of bacteria are suspended in the air hence they could affect an entire hospital subunit or wing, which means a lot of people can get infected and possibly die.

Due to slower innovations in the field of antibiotics, doctors have been forced to rely on colistin as a last-line defense against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The drug has many disadvantages. It is more than half a century old and can cause serious damage to a patient’s kidneys due to its highly toxic chemical signature. Yet, because doctors have run out of weapons to fight the growing number of infections that evade more modern antibiotics, colistin has become a critical tool in fighting off some of the most relentless infections, especially in intensive care patients.

How Can We Safeguard People Against This Calamity? By Utilizing The Antibiotic-Resistant Superbug Of Course

Hospitals are actively participating in the safeguarding of patients’ health and have increased surveillance services and active management of disease control facilities. These measures are put in place to quickly identify high-level drug resistances and to respond to them swiftly and effectively.

The most important strategy is to invest in research and development of new antibiotics. It is estimated that it costs a billion dollars to develop a new drug. Antibiotics do not receive enough funding since many antibiotics are prescribed for short durations and are relatively inexpensive. Hence, big pharmaceutical companies don’t have any financial incentive to amass produce newer, resilient antibiotics.

In addition to judicious usage, we as a community, have to limit the overuse of antibiotics, both to preserve them for drug resistance and to reduce treatment costs. This has also made antibiotics unattractive to drug makers.

However, we need pharmaceutical companies on board and engaged in developing new antibiotics. We can limit the rate at which these highly antibiotic-resistant strains emerge, but they have evolved and they’re not going to go away. So it’s imperative that we invest in developing new tools for our arsenal.