South Asian superbug claims first fatality

BRUSSELS — A Belgian became the first fatal victim of a drug-resistant “superbug” originating in South Asia, reinforcing fears it could spread worldwide after infecting dozens of people in Britain and Australia.

By (AFP)

Published: Fri 13 Aug 2010, 10:49 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 9:50 AM

The victim was infected by the bug while being treated in a hospital in Pakistan and died in June, a doctor from the Brussels hospital where he had been treated told Belgian media on Friday.

“He was involved in a car accident during a trip to Pakistan. He was hospitalised with a major leg injury and then repatriated to Belgium, but he was already infected,” the doctor said.

Despite being administered colistin, a powerful antibiotic, the patient died, the doctor said.

A second Belgian picked up the bug after being hospitalised after an accident during a trip to his native Montenegro, but recovered following treatment back in Belgium in July, another expert said Friday.

“The epicentre of the presence of this bacteria seems to be India and Pakistan, but it appears through contact and travel, its spread is becoming wider,” Youri Glupczynski, a bacteriologist from the University of Leuven, told AFP.

The superbug — found in bacteria containing the New Delhi metallo-lactamase-1 (NDM-1) gene — was first identified last year in a Swedish patient admitted to hospital in India.

British medical journal The Lancet reported this week that bacteria containing the NDM-1 gene had been found in 37 Britons who had received medical treatment in South Asia.

The report, which said health tourists visiting South Asia risked infection and warned the superbug could spread, sparked a furious response from India.

“To link this with the safety of surgery in hospitals in India and citing isolated examples to show that... India is not a safe place to visit, is wrong,” the health ministry said in a statement Friday.

However it also emerged Friday that a team of Indian researchers had warned about the superbug in March.

Researchers from the private Hinduja hospital in Mumbai studied 24 infection cases between August and November last year and said they found 22 incidences of NDM-1 producing bacteria.

Their report described the growing number of cases as a “major concern” and warned the superbug “has the potential for further dissemination in the community”.

The superbug has spread to Australia, infecting three people who had travelled to India for surgery.

Professor Peter Collignon, Canberra Hospital’s head of infectious diseases department, said the cases — including one patient who had plastic surgery in Mumbai — were just the “tip of the iceberg”.

“We found this multi-resistant, untreatable bug in their urine, luckily not causing too many problems to that person. But it’s a real problem if it spreads to others,” he said.

“The germ we had was untreatable — there were no drugs we had that could treat it,” he added.

Collignon said one of the patients caught the bug in intensive care in an Indian hospital after plastic surgery went wrong. But he said another picked up their bug in the general community, indicating the extent of the problem.

“There are likely to be more because what you’re picking up in hospitals is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

“It probably is killing lots of people but it happens in the developing world and there’s no way of measuring it.”

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