Researchers have discovered that a gene which makes bacteria resistant to a last-resort antibiotic called colistin has spread from China and can now be found in several countries around the world.
The gene was first discovered two months ago by researchers at the South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou, who found that the gene was already widespread in south China, turning up in 15 percent of meat samples and 21 percent of animals routinely tested between 2011 and 2014.
Colistin is important because it’s the weapon of last resort when all other antibiotics fail to work. While it possesses some harmful side effects, it’s your best bet for survival if you contract a bacterial infection that other drugs fail to treat. If Colistin doesn’t work, you’re in for trouble.
According to Today Online, the gene responsible for Colistin resistance has already been found in 19 countries, turning up in bacteria from farm animals, retail meat or humans.
Scientists warned in November of last year that the gene, known as MCR-1, had the potential to go global. The gene is carried on a plasmid, a circle of DNA that can be easily passed between bacteria.
Dr Lance Price, a professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University, outlined a nightmare public health scenario which widespread Colistin resistance could lead to:
Colistin is used to treat the kind of infections that the CDC calls “nightmare bacteria”, which kill half the people who get them. These bugs typically spread in health-care settings whose patients are already vulnerable, though healthy people can carry the bacteria in their gut without knowing it. Add to the mix Colistin-resistance, conferred by a gene that’s easy to spread, and the nightmare gets worse.
Despite the Chinese government pledging to take action against the overuse of antibiotics, the drugs are deployed in the country’s agricultural sector to the extent at which they have been found to be present at high levels in China’s rivers and other waterways.