Saturday, April 9, 2011

Scientists find superbugs in Delhi drinking water

LONDON (Reuters) - A gene that makes bugs highly resistant to almost
all known antibiotics has been found in bacteria in water supplies in
New Delhi used by local people for drinking, washing and cooking,
scientists said on Thursday.

The NDM 1 gene, which creates what some experts describe as "super
superbugs", has spread to germs that cause cholera and dysentery, and
is circulating freely in other bacteria in New Delhi, a city of 14
million people, the researchers said.

"The inhabitants of New Delhi are continually being exposed to
multidrug-resistant and NDM 1-positive bacteria", said Mark Toleman of
Britain's Cardiff University School of Medicine, who published the
findings in a study on Thursday.

A "substantial number" of them are consuming such bacteria on a daily
basis, he told a briefing in London. "We believe we have discovered a
very significant underlying source of NDM 1 in the capital city of
India," he said.

NDM 1, or New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1, makes bacteria resistant
to almost all antibiotics, including the most powerful class, called

It first emerged in India three years ago and has now spread across
the world. It has been found in a wide variety of bugs, including
familiar pathogens like Escherichia coli, or E. coli.

No new drugs are on the horizon for at least 5-6 years to tackle it
and experts are concerned that only a few major drug companies, such
as GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, still have strong antibiotic
development programmes.

Toleman's study, carried out with Cardiff University's Timothy Walsh
and published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, investigated
how common NDM 1-producing bacteria are in community waste seepage --
such as water pools or rivulets in streets -- and tap water in urban
New Delhi.

The researchers collected 171 swabs from seepage water and 50 public
tap water samples from sites within a 12 kilometre radius of central
New Delhi between September and October 2010.

The NDM 1 gene was found in two of the drinking-water samples and 51
of seepage samples, the researchers said, and bacteria positive for
NDM 1 were grown from two drinking-water samples and 12 seepage

"We would expect that perhaps as many as half a million people are
carrying NDM 1-producing bacteria as normal (gut) flora in New Dehli
alone," Toleman said.

Experts say the spread of superbugs threatens whole swathes of modern
medicine, which cannot be practiced if doctors have no effective
antibiotics to ward off infections during surgery, intensive care or
cancer treatments like chemotherapy.

In a commentary about Walsh and Toleman's findings, Mohd Shahid from
Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital in Uttar Pradesh, India,
said global action was needed.

"The potential for wider international spread of ... NDM 1 is real and
should not be ignored," he wrote.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has designated April 7 as World
Health Day and under the slogan "No action today, no cure tomorrow" it
is campaigning about the risks of life-saving antibiotics losing their
healing power.

"We are at a critical point in time where antibiotic resistance is
reaching unprecedented levels," said Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO's
regional director for Europe.

"Given the growth of travel and trade in Europe and across the world,
people should be aware that until all countries tackle this, no
country alone can be safe."

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