The day of reckoning is here, at least when it comes to super bacteria that seem to be immune to traditional treatment with antibiotics.
A 49-year-old woman has become the first person carrying a bacteria resistant to colistin, an antibiotic of last resort for the worst infections, which develops a disease.
As explained by researchers at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, the patient had a urinary tract infection caused by a version of the bacterium Escherichia coli with a mutation on its mcr-1 gene that made it immune to the drug.
This mutation was first detected in pigs in China and in some people, and had since appeared in countries around the world.
The scientists, who published their findings in the journal of the American Society for Microbiology Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, consider that this discovery “really heralds the advent of bacteria resistant to all antibiotics.”
However, other experts have clarified that although these pathogens are worrisome, they are not catastrophic because colistin is only one of several antibiotics that are rarely used.
“It’s bad, but not apocalyptic,” said Makoto Jones, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
Faced with the effects of antibiotics, bacteria change to survive. The more these drugs are used to treat both humans and animals to grow livestock, it is more likely that organisms become resistance to them.
That has made antibiotics such as colistin, a highly toxic substance that was used only in cases of extreme necessity, to be used more frequently, which results in bacteria eventually mutating to cope with it.
According to Jesus Rodriguez Bath, coordinator of the Spanish Network for Research in Infectious Diseases, this resistance has been found in many countries, including Spain, although there are no clinical infections that have been observed.
“The concern is that this mechanism of resistance can be transmitted from one bacterium to another with relative ease, because it is in a plasmid, a piece of genetic material that can be transmitted,” said the doctor at the Virgen Macarena University Hospital in Seville.
“For now, it is not known what effects this new bacterium will have in people’s health, but it is an important to be alert because in the past, similar cases have finally become a problem,” he adds.
This type of resistant superbugs draws attention to the need to use antibiotics more rationally, in treating people and animals.
Health authorities warn insistently about antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths per year worldwide.
Despite these warnings, livestock raised in factory farms are continuously injected with antibiotics and other substances to allegedly keep the animals safe from disease. In practice, though, the immediate result is a dangerous increase in antibiotic-resistant pathogens that are harder and harder to treat.