Drug-resistant "superbug" is in Delhi's water supply, could spread worldwide soon

The era of easy antibiotics may be coming to an end in our lifetimes — a gene that causes a variety of bacteria to become antibiotic-resistant is widespread in the Delhi water supply, according to a new study.

According to the Guardian:

A paper by Timothy Walsh from Cardiff University and colleagues, published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, reveals that the gene, known as NDM-1, is widespread in the water used for cooking, washing and drinking in Delhi. It will inevitably be brought into hospitals in the gut flora of patients. The potential for movement around the world is high.

NDM-1 can cause many types of bacteria – including E coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae – to become resistant to powerful antibiotics called carbapenems, which are used when other antibiotics fail to work. The team also found the gene had spread to bacteria that cause cholera and dysentery. "Worryingly, dysentery caused by this particular isolate is currently untreatable," said Mark Toleman, one of the authors.

The drug industry isn't developing new antibiotics fast enough, because the process is difficult and the results aren't profitable enough. And meanwhile, governments haven't been responding to the threat of drug-resistant epidemics with the urgency they deserve. Says Toleman: "Following the publication of this study, the Indian government took draconian measures against the Indian scientists who collaborated with us and our colleagues were threatened." [Guardian]