Superbug Hits U.S.: Drug-Resistant E. Coli Strain Expected To Kill 10 Million People By 2050

A new superbug has officially hit the U.S., according to the CDC. It is a rare E. coli strain that is resistant to antibiotics, including colistin, which doctors use as a last resort when nothing else works. Recently, a Pennsylvania woman visited a clinic, and the superbug was detected in her urine by the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The 49-year-old woman has not traveled outside of the U.S. in several months. It is unknown how she contracted the bacteria.

The bacteria has been detected outside the U.S. in Europe, China, and even Canada, but this is the first time the superbug was found in the U.S., other than a single incident in which the U.S. Department of Agriculture detected colistin-resistant E. coli in a sample of pig intestine. The USDA is investigating the source of the pig to determine if any other animals on that farm are infected.

After the superbug was found in the U.S., CNN reported that the CDC and the Pennsylvania Department of Health went to work immediately to trace the source of the E. coli. They investigated contacts the patient had to determine if the bacteria had spread. The woman, who was treated and released, doesn’t appear to have any lasting problems related to her recent infection, according to Dr. Alex Kallen, a medical officer at the CDC. The CDC is checking into the health care facility that the woman visited to determine if there could be any other cases of the superbug.

The two cases of the superbug being in the U.S. have stirred concern in the CDC. They are calling it a “warning sign.” The superbug itself, though, is not the only threat. The bigger concern is that it can mutate other strains of bacteria, making them resistant to colistin as well. That could mean widespread resistance and several untreatable superbugs. Experts believe they may be able to protect the world from this superbug if they start working on an antibiotic for it now.

Superbugs in the U.S. are a growing problem. Studies suggest that drug-resistant infections could cause a 50 percent mortality rate. The World Health Organization warns that superbugs are the biggest threats to the health of world today. Each year at least two million people are infected with drug-resistant infections. About 23,000 die from their infections. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Tom Frieden says we should expect to see more superbugs in the U.S. in the near future. Frieden warns about the overuse of antibiotics and urges the rapid development of new drugs.

“The medicine cabinet is empty for some patients. It is the end of the road unless we act urgently.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron said that leading countries need to stop overusing antibiotics and pay pharmaceutical companies big rewards for new antibiotics.

“In too many cases antibiotics have stopped working. That means people are dying of simple infections or conditions like TB (tuberculosis), tetanus, sepsis, infections that should not mean a death sentence. If we do nothing about this there will be a cumulative hit to the world economy of $100 trillion and it is potentially the end of modern medicine as we know it.”

A British review published last week said if the problem isn’t addressed now, superbugs could kill 10 million people by 2050, according to Reuters. To help fight the Colistin-resistant bacterias, the European Medicines Agency called for a 65 percent reduction in Colistin use in livestock.

Friedman said, “The more we look at drug resistance, the more concerned we are.”

Now that the superbug is in the U.S., more money is being invested in research for new antibiotics, though pharmaceutical companies prefer developing more profitable drugs.

[Photo by Janice Carr/CDC via AP Images]