Bacteria with a new gene that makes them resistant to the most powerful antibiotics have been found in humans, according to a new report in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. The Times of London reports:
A gene that makes bacteria such as E. coli resistant to last-resort antibiotics has jumped from animals to humans and is likely to arrive in Britain.
Scientists believe that it is only a matter of time before the new gene combines with existing mechanisms of antibiotic resistance, making infections ranging from pneumonia to salmonella impervious to medicine.
The new gene has been identified in several types of bacteria in 166 animals and 16 hospital patients across China. The bacteria are resistant to colistin, a drug reserved for last resort use on humans in Europe, but routinely used in pig farming in Asia.
The proliferation of resistant bacteria could have disastrous consequences for global health. But people shouldn’t panic: Over the past few hundred years, Malthusian warnings have always been overblown. Scientists have a way of finding new methods to supersede old, ineffective ones. In the case of antibiotics, we’ve already seen signs that replacements and new methods are coming. From techniques which limit the overuse of antibiotics that leads to resistant strains to new antibiotics themselves, there are signs that this crisis, too, can be averted. Still, this is a worrisome story worth keeping an eye on.