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Man dies from Indian superbug

17th August 2010

Doctors in Belgium have recorded the first known fatality of a dangerous class of superbugs that contain the New Delhi metallo-lactamase-1 (NDM-1) gene.


The newly-discovered gene makes the superbugs impervious to any known form of medical treatment.

Patrice Nordmann, who heads a unit specialising in antibiotic resistance at France's National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm), said that the number of NDM-1 infections was bound to be far higher than the recorded tally.

The Belgian man, who is unnamed, picked up the bug during a hospital visit to Pakistan.

When the patient sought help at a hospital in Belgium, doctors tried using everything they could think of, including colistin, a powerful antibiotic.

A doctor at the hospital where the man sought treatment said that the unnamed Belgian patient was in a car accident during a trip to Pakistan.

He said that the patient was hospitalised and repatriated, but that the man had already been infected by the time he returned to Belgium.

Nordmann said that there was a large potential reservoir for NDM-1 to rely on.

Researchers are very worried about the NDM-1 gene at the moment, because the gene involves plasmid DNA.

Plasmids are a type of DNA structure that can easily be copied and transferred between types of bacteria, including E coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae.

The superbug also infected another Belgian who was hospitalised after an accident.

The man had taken a trip to Montenegro, his native country, and picked up the bug in a hospital there.

He recovered after being treated in July.

Youri Glupczynski, a bacteriologist from the University of Leuven, said that the epicentre of the bacteria seemed to be India and Pakistan, and that the bug was increasing spread through contact and travel.

Even carbanapenems, which are used by doctors as a last resort antibiotic, are ineffective against NDM-1.

The European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ESCMID) said that it would probably be at least 10 years before drugs capable of treating NDM-1 were available.

Three cases of NDM-1 exposure have also been identified among three Australian travellers.

One of the travellers had gone to India for surgery.

Peter Collignon, a professor and head of Canberra Hospital's head of infectious diseases department in Australia, said that he and his research team found the multi-resistant, untreatable bug in the travellers' urine.

He said that, while the presence of the bug was not currently causing any problems, the spread of the bug itself was more worrisome, since it was completely untreatable.

One of the patients caught the bug in an intensive care unit in India.

Collignon said that another of the three infected Australians picked up the bug in the street, and that there was no way of measuring the amount of deaths NDM-1 might be causing in the developing world.

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