Researchers have identified the first U.S. case of a pathogen carrying a mutated gene resistant to an antibiotic used as a last line of defense against superbugs, raising fears that a post-antibiotic era will arrive sooner than expected.
A 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman tested positive last month for a strain of E. coli bacteria containing a mutated gene known as MCR-1 that is resistant to colistin, one of several antibiotics used against multidrug-resistant infections.
In a study last week in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, researchers called the discovery the “emergence of truly pan-drug resistant bacteria.”
Though the case marks the first known appearance of a pathogen with the MCR-1 gene in the U.S., such bacteria strains have been appearing for years in other parts of the world. A study last November in the Lancet found evidence of MCR-1 in food, animals and humans in China. The discovery in China was of particular concern because the mutated gene was on a plasmid, a circular DNA molecule that can transfer genetic material to another strain of a similar pathogen or to a different pathogen altogether.
Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, addressed the emergence of the pathogen during a speech last week in Washington about the Zika virus. “The medicine cabinet is empty for some patients,” he said. “It is the end of the road for antibiotics if we don't do something.”