In a development reminiscent of post-apocalyptic thrillers like The Walking Dead and Stephen King’s The Stand, authorities are sounding the alarm on a drug-resistant superbug which now appears to have manifested in the United States. As reported by Fox News and other outlets, a 49-year-old woman from Pennsylvania tested positive last month for carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, a deadly strain of E. Coli. Further testing revealed that the bacteria were resistant to the antibiotic, colistin, which is regarded as the “last line of defense” for drug-resistant bacteria. No existing antibiotics can kill the drug-resistant superbug.
According to a report by CNN, the Center for Disease Control and the Pennsylvania Health Department subsequently launched efforts to track the afflicted patient’s travel history and previous medical treatment in an attempt to ascertain how she might have contracted the bacteria. While previous cases of the bacterial infection have been reported in Europe, Canada, and China, the woman has not traveled outside of the United States in the past five months. An article by National Geographic indicated that official comments regarding the unidentified woman’s case did not provide any further information regarding her situation.
According to doctors at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, the strain of E. coli is resistant to antibiotics due to a unique, transferable gene. This characteristic presents significant challenges with regard to treatment options.
“The discovery of this gene in the U.S. is equally concerning, and continued surveillance to identify reservoirs of this gene within the military health care community and beyond is critical to prevent its spread,” said Dr, Patrick McGann in a release cited by Fox News.
A CDC official quote by CNN was even more blunt, stating that failure to rein in the spread of drug-resistant superbugs will be “the end of the road.”
Just one week prior to the revelation that a drug-resistant superbug had been detected in the United States, a harrowing report from the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance suggested that future superbugs could ultimately kill up to 10 million people every year – or one person every three seconds – by the year 2050.
“We need to inform in different ways, all over the world, why it’s crucial we stop treating our antibiotics like sweets,” said economist Jim O’Neil in an account by the BBC. “If we don’t solve the problem we are heading to the dark ages, we will have a lot of people dying.”
Among the changes recommended by the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, are a “massive global awareness campaign” as well as research funds and initiative programs for companies to develop new treatments for superbugs. The study also recommended the reduction in antibiotic use in agriculture.
The aforementioned E. Coli strain is not the only superbug that threatens health on a global scale. Infections of drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis, typhoid, and gonorrhea kill hundreds of thousands of people every year, according to a previous report from Fox News.
The World Health Organization has stressed that while overuse of antibiotics is a factor in the mutation of drug-resistant bacteria, the threat of contracting a superbug is not confined to those who take antibiotics often. Everyone is at risk for contracting a superbug, and at least 23,000 people die every year, according to information cited by CNN.
Doctors are extremely troubled about the looming threat of superbugs as they decide how to go about in the needs of those infected with these harrowing maladies. While research and development of new methods of treatment are ongoing, present options remain few and far between for those suffering at present.
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