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Japan confirms new superbug gene

7th September 2010

A new gene that can be swapped between bacteria, allowing them to acquire resistance to most antibiotics, has been found in Japan.


The gene was detected in a Japanese man who had returned from India, where he had undergone medical treatment.

Health ministry official Kensuke Nakajima confirmed that the NDM-1 gene, which could pose a global public health threat, was found in a man in his fifties.

Nakajima said the man was admitted to hospital in Togichi, to the north of Tokyo, in April 2009 after returning from India with a high fever. He was discharged last October.

Following a report in a medical journal, staff at the Dokkyo Medical University Hospital examined a preserved sample of the suspected superbug from the man.

They then told the health ministry about their find, confirming the presence of the NDM-1 gene, and that no in-hospital infections had been found.

The health ministry launched a nationwide survey following the country's first NDM-1 case, and local health authorities were checking for other infections.

The gene has been widely found in India, but has also been detected in small numbers in Australia, Canada, the United States, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.

The fact that many Americans and Europeans travel to India and Pakistan for elective procedures like cosmetic surgery makes it more likely that the superbug gene will continue to spread, scientists say.

Drug resistance has been found in many bacteria, especially in antibiotics like penicillin which have been in use the longest.

Microbes are also beginning to show resistance to successive generations of drugs, with experts blaming the excessive and improper use of antibiotics for exacerbating the problem, leading to the emergence of superbugs.

A widely publicised report in the UK-based medical journal The Lancet warned that the potential of the NDM-1 gene to emerge as a worldwide public health problem was great.

It called for coordinated international surveillance to contain the problem.

So far, the gene has mostly been found in the E. coli bacteria and on DNA structures that can be easily copied and passed onto other types of bacteria.

Resistance to drugs is a growing public health issue, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The WHO has warned that the phenomenon could affect the ability to treat diseases like respiratory infections and dysentery.

It has called for further monitoring and study of NDM-1, noting that countries have successfully fought resistant infections in the past.

Governments have been urged to focus on surveillance, the proper use of antibiotics, preventing the sale of antibiotics with no prescription and rigorous infection prevention measures.

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