For the first time, researchers have found a person in the United States carrying bacteria resistant to antibiotics, an alarming development that the top U.S. public health official says could mean “the end of the road” for antibiotics.
The patient affected by the antibiotic resistant strain— a 49-year-old woman in Pennsylvania — has recovered. But Defense Department researchers and health officials fear that if the resistance spreads to other bacteria, the country may soon see supergerms impervious to all known antibiotics.
Doctors fear, “It is the end of the road for antibiotics unless we act urgently,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during an appearance in Washington.
Other countries have already seen multi-drug resistant superbugs that no antibiotic can fight. So far, the United States has not. But this sets the stage for that development, CDC officials said.
Initial tests on the woman found she was infected with E. coli bacteria, a common variety of germ seen in the gut that often makes its way to the bladder. This E. coli was resistant to antibiotics commonly used first for such infections. She was successfully treated with another kind of antibiotic. It was carrying a gene for resistance against the drug colistin.
Colistin is an old antibiotic. By the 1970s, doctors had mostly stopped using it because of its harsh side effects. But it was brought back as other antibiotics began losing their effectiveness. The colistin-resistant gene has been previously seen in animals and people in China, Europe and Canada.