Superbug from India on worldwide tour arrives to infect U.S.

superbug infection protection

A superbug thriving in India that is spreading via air travel worldwide was brought to the U.S. by at least three infected people. Image: CC Y/Flickr

A new superbug that a British medical journal called attention to last month has emerged in the U.S. People infected with the superbug known as NDM-1 turned up in hospitals in Massachusetts, California and Illinois. All three had recently spent time in India, where the superbug is believed to have originated. Previously,  medical tourism was blamed for the spread of NDM-1 after British citizens traveling to India for cheap plastic surgery brought home the superbug. But the fact that the American superbug victims were not medical tourists is leading scientists to believe that the potential of NDM-1 as a worldwide threat is more serious than first thought.

Superbug infections in U.S. traced to India

Recently discovered cases of superbug infection in the U.S., along with two others in Canada, involve people who received medical care in India. Red Orbit reports that the NDM-1 case in California involved a woman who received medical care after a car accident in India. In Illinois, a man with a pre-existing medical conditions and a urinary catheter contracted the superbug infection while traveling in India. In Massachusetts, a woman from India had surgery and chemotherapy there before traveling to the U.S. In all three U.S. cases the superbugs weren’t killed by antibiotics typically used to treat drug-resistant infections, but all of the victims survived. A Belgian who had been hospitalized in Pakistan after a car accident was the first known death from the NDM-1 superbug.

Hitchhiking superbug a global threat

Last month, cases of NDM-1 infection involving Britons who traveled to India for cheap plastic surgery were documented in an article in Lancet, a British medical journal. In the Lancet article, scientists describe NDM-1 as a gene that mutates bacteria to become resistant to the strongest antibiotics available. CBS News reports that bacteria carrying the NDM-1 gene are widespread in India. Scientists say the NDM-1 gene is becoming increasingly common in Bangladesh and Pakistan as well. The superbug is hitching rides around the world with people visiting those undeveloped countries.

Unsanitary, overpopulated India

Medical specialists attending an international meeting of microbiologists and doctors in Boston this week are very concerned about NDM-1, particularly because of its prevalence in India. The Boston Herald reports that antibiotics are cheap and sold over the counter in India. Inappropriate use spreads drug resistance among deadly bacteria. Poor sanitation facilitates the spread of NDM-1, which thrives in germs that grow in the human gut. Timothy Walsh, one of the authors of the Lancet article, told the Boston Herald that the overpopulated, unsanitary conditions in India are going to make the superbug spread widely. He said at the present time one or two superbug antibiotics are effective, but six to eight are needed.

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