New ‘killer’ bacteria on the prowl, A health issue warning through Hindu : The Human Rescue Team

Health » Medicine & Research Published: January 29, 2012 03:45 IST | Updated: January 29, 2012 03:45 IST

New ‘killer’ bacteria on the prowl

Aarti Dhar

Millions of Indians are suspected to be carriers of the drug-resistant bug

After the scary New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase-1 or the “superbug” was detected two years ago, the world is now faced with the community-acquired methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (ca-MRSA) bacterium that is resistant to almost all common antibiotics.

In India, where poor hygiene and the availability of over-the-counter antibiotics lead to development of resistance, an estimated 100 to 200 million people are reportedly already carriers of these virtually unbeatable killer bacteria. The killer bugs have also reached England, presumably through medical tourists who travelled to India for cosmetic surgery, and reportedly already infected several hundred people. A few cases have also turned up in Germany.

The bacterium has become a serious health threat in the United States. India had protested the naming of the superbug after New Delhi and denied its presence then. Now, the ca-MRSA is all set to raise another storm.

There is only one antibiotic left — a drug that is normally not even used anymore owing to its potentially fatal side effects — that is still effective against these killer bacteria. In serious cases, people who become infected with these types of pathogens die of urinary tract infections, wound infections or pneumonia. And, in contrast to the highly drug-resistant hospital-acquired MRSA (ha-MRSA) strains, which primarily affect the elderly and people in hospitals and nursing homes, ca-MRSA affects healthy young people.

An article written by Philip Bethge, Veronika Hackenbroch, Laura Hoflinger, Michael Leockx and Udo Ludwig for German news magazine Der Spiegel says the two bacteria, ha-MRSA and ca-MRSA, are only two strains from an entire arsenal of pathogens that are now resistant to almost all available antibiotics. Less than a century after the discovery of penicillin, one of the most powerful weapons ever produced by modern medicine, it threatens to become ineffective.

Fear of ‘pandemic’

The British medical journal The Lancet warns that the drug-resistant bacteria could spark a “pandemic.” And, in Germany, the dangerous pathogens are no longer only feared “hospital bugs” found in intensive care units (ICUs). Instead, they have become ubiquitous.

The pathogens thrive in warm, moist environments. They can be found in people’s armpits, in the genital area and in the nasal mucous membranes. Their hunting grounds are the locker rooms of schools and universities, as well as the community showers of prisons and health clubs.

The bacteria are transmitted via skin, through towels, clothing or direct body contact. All it takes is a small abrasion to provide them access to a victim’s bloodstream. Festering pustules develop at the infection site, at which point the pathogens are also capable of corroding the lungs. If doctors wait too long, patients can die very quickly.

The dangerous bacteria have even been detected on one of Germany’s high-speed ICE trains. Likewise, more than 10 per cent of the residents of German retirement homes have been reportedly colonised by MRSA bacteria. In their case, every open wound is potentially deadly. The pathogens have also been found in beef, pork and vegetables.

Alarming finding

Another alarming finding is that about 3 to 5 per cent of the population carries the so-called ESBL-forming bacteria in the intestine without knowing it. Even modern antibiotics are completely ineffective against these highly resistant bacteria, the article warns.

Infestation with multidrug-resistant bacteria is normally harmless to healthy individuals because their immune systems can keep the pathogens under control. Problems arise when an individual becomes seriously ill.

Israel even experienced a nationwide outbreak a few years ago. Within a few months, about 1,300 people were afflicted by an extremely dangerous bacterium that killed 40 per cent of infected patients. Even today, the same bacterium still sickens some 300 people a year.

Keywords: ca-MRSA, superbug, drug-resistant bacteria

Printable version | Jan 29, 2012 11:34:37 AM |

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