Medical tourism sparks fears of wide-spread new superbug

A new superbug could spread around the world
after reaching Britain from India – in part because of medical tourism – and scientists
say there are almost no drugs to treat it.

Researchers
have found a new gene called New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase, or NDM-1, in
patients in South Asia
and in Britain.

NDM-1
makes bacteria highly resistant to almost all antibiotics, including the most
powerful class called carbapenems, and experts say there are no new drugs on
the horizon to tackle it.

With
international travel in search of cheaper healthcare increasing, particularly
for procedures such as cosmetic surgery, Timothy Walsh, who led the study, said he feared the new superbug could soon spread across the globe.

 “Because of medical tourism and international
travel in general, resistance to these types of bacteria has the potential to
spread around the world very, very quickly. And there is nothing in the (drug
development) pipeline to tackle it,” Mr. Walsh, from Britain’s Cardiff
University, said.

In
a study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal on Wednesday, Mr.
Walsh’s team found that NDM-1 is becoming more common in Bangladesh, India, and
Pakistan and is also being imported back to Britain in patients returning after
treatment.

“India
also provides cosmetic surgery for other Europeans and Americans, and it is
likely NDM-1 will spread worldwide,” the scientists wrote in the study.

Mr.
Walsh and his international team collected bacteria samples from hospital
patients in two places in India, Chennai and Haryana, and from patients
referred to Britain’s national reference laboratory between 2007 and 2009.

They
found 44 NDM-1-positive bacteria in Chennai, 26 in Haryana, 37 in Britain, and
73 in other sites in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. Several of the British
NDM-1 positive patients had recently travelled to India or Pakistan for
hospital treatment, including cosmetic surgery, they said.

Most
worryingly, NDM-1-producing bacteria are resistant to many antibiotics
including carbapenems, the scientists said, a class of the drugs often reserved
for emergency use and to treat infections caused by other multi-resistant bugs
like MRSA and C-Difficile.

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A surgeon and his assistant perform cosmetic surgery inside a hospital operation theatre in Mumbai.
Photo: File
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