New drug-resistant superbug infection threatens to go global
Medical tourists in search of cheap plastic surgery are spreading a new superbug. CC by kaibara87/Flickr.

A new superbug infection could become a global threat, thanks to Brits seeking out cheap face lifts in India and bringing home more than souvenirs. Plastic surgery patients have contracted a new class of superbug infection in South Asia and carried it to Britain, where it could spread worldwide. The new superbug carries a bacteria-jumping gene that makes infections impervious to the most powerful antibiotics available. While Big Pharma chases lucrative conditions like erectile dysfunction, experts say governments have to do something to encourage more investment in antibiotic research.

Superbug gene makes deadly bacteria drug-resistant

A new superbug infection set off alarms that it could spread worldwide after reaching Britain from India via medical tourism. Scientists say there are almost no drugs to treat it. Reuters reports that researchers have found a new gene called New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase, or NDM-1, in patients in South Asia and in Britain. The NDM-1 gene alters bacteria to make them highly resistant to almost all antibiotics, including the most powerful class called carbapenems. Experts say there are no new antibiotics in the pipeline to fight it. With international travel in search of cheap procedures such as cosmetic surgery increasing, Timothy Walsh, who led the study, told Reuters he fears the new superbug could soon spread across the globe.

Superbug seeks to spread and diversify

In an article published online Wednesday in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, the researchers said the superbug gene was already circulating widely in India, where the health care system is much less likely to detect it or have adequate antibiotics to fight it. The Associated Press reports that the superbug gene has been identified in 37 people in Britain with drug-resistant bacterial infections after having plastic surgery in India or Pakistan. The superbug gene also been detected in Australia, Canada, the U.S., the Netherlands and Sweden. The superbug gene is found on DNA structures, called plasmids, that can be easily copied and transferred between bacteria, giving the superbug “an alarming potential to spread and diversify,” the authors said.

Big Pharma chasing money, not superbugs

The pharmaceutical industry lacks interest in superbugs. Bacteria’s ability to develop resistance quickly narrows the commercial opportunity for new antibiotics. The Wall Street Journal reports that some pharmaceutical companies are looking for government subsidies to ensure they get an adequate return on investment to shareholders for addressing a global health threat. Pharmaceutical companies also blame strict research and development demands from official regulators that cut into potential profits. Even so, some large drug makers are engaged in antibiotic research, including Pfizer and Merck in the U.S., Novartis in Switzerland and GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca in the U.K.



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