An antibiotic-resistant "superbug" that has spread to New Zealand could become a significant medical problem unless hospitals remain vigilant.
The superbug, dubbed NDM-1 (New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1), is thought to be resistant to nearly every known antibiotic, and appears to have originated in India before spreading across the world.
The NDM-1 is a gene that produces an enzyme that deactivates most antibiotics. It has been found in bacteria, including the familiar E. coli, and can cause anything from urinary tract infections to dysentery, pneumonia and abdominal infections.
Four cases were discovered in New Zealand hospitals during 2009 and 2010.
A study published in theInternational Journal of Antimicrobial Agents this week has revealed they were all found in patients who had received treatment in Indian hospitals.
Finding incidences of the bacteria in patients in several New Zealand hospitals – which were not named in the study – across a short-time span was a concern. It illustrated the importance of taking care with international travel, the study's authors said.
Treating the bug would be a "major therapeutic challenge", and it was inevitable that more cases would be found.
"It is therefore imperative that clinicians and laboratories remain vigilant both in detecting these organisms and in instituting appropriate infection-control measures to prevent further the epidemic spread," they wrote.
Auckland District Health Board microbiologist Dr Deborah Williamson said the superbug had been detected during routine screening in the hospitals while the patients were being treated for other medical conditions.
The bug was resistant to all oral antibiotics and would only respond to those administered intravenously, which could be toxic.
"There has been no evidence of spread within our hospitals, but it's important we remain vigilant and identify these organisms.
"It does pose a risk."
Travellers to at-risk countries should be sure to wash their hands with antibacterial handwash, she said.
Auckland University School of Medicine Professor John Fraser said the discovery showed a worrying trend that was not unexpected.
"The next question is how fast will this gene spread through the community and become a significant medical problem?"
- © Fairfax NZ News
Should fluoride in water be the responsibility of central government?