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Antibiotic-resistant Gene Found In New Delhi Water Supply

April 7, 2011

Scientists said on Thursday that a gene which makes bugs highly resistant to almost all known antibiotics has been found in water supplies in New Delhi used by local people for drinking, washing and cooking.

The researchers said the NDM 1 gene has spread germs that cause cholera and dysentery, and is circulating freely in other bacteria in the Indian city capital of 14 million people.

“The inhabitants of New Delhi are continually being exposed to multidrug-resistant and NDM 1-positive bacteria,” Mark Toleman of Britain’s Cardiff University School of Medicine, who published the findings in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases on Thursday, told a briefing in London.

He said a “substantial number” of them are consuming bacteria like this on a daily basis. “We believe we have discovered a very significant underlying source of NDM 1 in the capital city of India,” he said.

NDM 1 makes bacteria resistant to almost all antibiotics, including the most powerful class known as carbapenems.

The gene first emerged in India three years ago and has now spread across the world.  It has been found in a wide variety of bugs, including familiar pathogens like Escherichia coli (E. coli).

No new drugs to fight the gene will be on the horizon for at least 5 to 6 years and experts are concerned that only a few major drug companies like GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca still have strong antibiotic development programs.

Toleman’s study investigated how common NDM 1-producing bacteria are in community waste seepage and tap water in urban New Delhi.

The researchers collected 171 swabs from seepage water and 50 public tap water samples from sites within a 7-mile radius of central New Delhi between September and October 2010.

The researchers said that the gene was found in two of the drinking-water samples and 51 of seepage samples and bacteria positive for NDM 1 were grown from two drinking-water samples and 12 seepage samples.

“We would expect that perhaps as many as half a million people are carrying NDM 1-producing bacteria as normal (gut) flora in New Dehli alone,” Toleman said.

Experts said that the spread of superbugs threatens whole swathes of modern medicine, which cannot be practiced if doctors have no effective antibiotics to ward off infections during surgery, intensive care or cancer treatments like chemotherapy.

Ohd Shahid from Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital in Uttar Pradesh, India said in a commentary about Walsh and Toleman’s findings that global action was needed.

“The potential for wider international spread of … NDM 1 is real and should not be ignored,” he wrote.

The World Health Organization (WHO) designated April 7 as World Health Day and under the slogan “No action today, no cure tomorrow” it is campaigning about the risks of life-saving antibiotics losing their healing power.

“We are at a critical point in time where antibiotic resistance is reaching unprecedented levels,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO’s regional director for Europe.

“Given the growth of travel and trade in Europe and across the world, people should be aware that until all countries tackle this, no country alone can be safe.”

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