New "Super Bacteria" Worries Scientists

Genetic Mutation Creates Possiblity of Global Pandemic

by David Morel, age 15

A new genetic mutation that makes common bacteria resistant to nearly every antibiotic has traveled from India to the United States and to the United Kingdom. Moreover, modern science cannot stop its spread.

The gene mutation, New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase-1 or NDM-1 makes common bacteria resistant even to carbapenem antibiotics. Carbapenem antibiotics are generally used only as a last resort against bacteria. It has been found in bacteria such as E. Coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae. Both are common, and can lead to blood poisoning and urinary tract infections.

NDM-1 is troubling because it can jump quite easily between strains of bacteria. The mutation could produce harmful, possibly fatal infections that are extremely contagious and almost impossible to treat.

Originating on the Indian subcontinent, the mutation has spread to the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands. It is also very possible that this mutation could spread quickly across the globe. Scientists fear this possibility because most current drugs are useless against it. It is thought that medical tourism probably helps NDM-1 spread. Medical tourism is when patients seek medical help outside of their own country.

Despite the potential ravaging effects, history shows that highly resistant mutations tend to be downgraded to a public threat. In the past, for example, the resistant MRSA bugs were initially declared a threat to humanity, but were later downgraded to “threatening but not critical.”

In the case of NDM-1 possible treatments are already in development. These include new antibiotics or new combinations of antibiotics. In addition, alternatives to antibiotics, such as bacteriophages, might curtail the rapid spread of NDM-1.

There is little question that the gene mutation NDM-1 poses a global health risk. And while there are treatments in the works, we currently have no method of stopping a pandemic should are occur because of NDM-1.

[Sources: BBC Health; Popular Science]