Scary resistance gene could heighten risk of superbugs

THE world’s most dangerous strain of bacteria found in superbugs could be en route to Australia and transmitted through touch.

The MCR-1 resistance gene is unstoppable and will worsen the threat of superbugs.

It was first detected in China about a year ago and has since spread across the globe.

The first strain was found in a pig, then raw meat, then in a small number of people.

It’s difficult to tackle this superbug gene at the moment and if it hits Australia, it will be a national emergency to prevent the spread of it.

The rise of superbugs has been described as the “antibiotic apocalypse” and could kill 10 million people a year by 2050.

That means one person would die every three seconds and could be killing more people than cancer.

Using antibiotics has aided the growth of superbugs and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said they were not prescribed properly 50 per cent of the time.

Antibiotics kill our sickness, but also destroy good bacteria that protects us, allowing the superbugs to move in.

Superbugs can’t be killed by many antibiotics, meaning they can grow without anything fighting them.

Earlier this year, the MCR-1 resistance gene was identified in 10 different countries and a study found it was discovered in a hospital patient in New York.

The superbug has also been discovered in Canada and Europe.

Professor Ben Howden, from the University of Melbourne Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Doherty Institute, said superbugs and bacteria containing the MCR-1 resistance gene were problems Australia needed to worry about.

“It can spread through touch or contamination of surfaces, most commonly in the hospital environment. Surfaces in the hospital or possibly hospital toilets could become contaminated,” Prof Howden said.

People who have been diagnosed with illnesses like cancer are most at risk of catching superbugs due to the antibiotics they are taking and the effect of the illness on their immune system.

MCR-1 leads to resistance to las-line drugs that are used to treat superbug bacteria and are therefore basically untreatable.

Prof Howden said the gene was first discovered in E. coli, a bacteria that resides in the lower intestine.

Prof Howden said the MCR-1 resistance gene in bacteria had been around for a while before it was detected because of how rapidly it was then reported in other countries, after first being reported from China.

“This one is bad, it’s very hard to treat.” he said.

“But it’s not especially common at the moment and we should look at and target now the more common ones.

“But we must be aware of (MCR-1) and have systems in place to detect it early and stop it spreading. It’s one of many superbug problems.

“It shows that on a global level we need to detect new resistance problems and respond quickly because bacteria adapts and evolves, it’s a moving target.”

Australia is also battling deadly superbug carbapenemase-producing enterobacteriaceae (CPE) and the potentially fatal vancomycin-resistant entercocci (VRE) superbug.

In 2014, 170 patients were diagnosed with VRE at the Royal Perth Hospital in just six months.

It can kill already very sick people.

CPE has also killed two people in Victoria and affected up to 60 people in the state.

E. coli with the MCR-1 gene is super-strength and has the ability to infect other bacteria.

Sanjaya Senanayake from ANU College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, told last year the risk to Australia wasn’t as serious as other countries, but it could be devastating due to the rate it spreads.

“We in Australia are a lot better off than other countries in terms of dealing with resistant bacteria but we are starting to see them come here,” Dr Senanayake said.

“The issue of course is Australians travel and when people travel and visit other countries, they drink the water, eat food, walk around and you pick up the local bacteria.

“A number of studies have shown that travellers going to countries that have resistant bacteria in them will often come back with those resistant bacteria sitting in their bowels. If is doesn’t cause an infection then it’s OK and usually after a few months they lose that bacteria. But if it does it can cause serious problems.”

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