The infection was occurred in a 49 year-old woman from Pennsylvania who developed a urinary tract infection (UTI) with a mutant form of E. coli.
Experts say the “superbug” itself was infected with a tiny piece of DNA called a plasmid. It passed along the mcr-1 gene, which is resistant to colistin, the last-resort antibiotic for nightmare bacteria.
In November 2015, the mcr-1 gene was found in pigs, raw pork meat, and a few people in China. It was later discovered in Europe, Africa, South America, and Canada.
This is the first known case in the United States. The woman had not travelled in the five months before her infection. The mcr-1 gene was also found in a sample of pig intestine by the USDA.
The good news is that she was cured by antibiotics in the carbapenem class. However, she was resistant to fluoroquinolones, ampicillin, streptomycin, sulfisoxazole, and tetracycline.
The fear is that the gene will jump to CRE bacteria that are only destroyed by colistin, creating a potentially unstoppable “superbug.”
CRE stands for Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae. In addition to resisting most antibiotics, CRE resist sterilization on medical equipment. Last year, several people died from CRE infections that were transmitted on medical scopes that were nearly impossible for hospitals to sterilize.
Researchers do not know how often the mcr-1 gene occurs in the wild. However, they say it is dangerous and could spread quickly — even in a hospital environment.
Antibiotic resistance causes at least 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths annually, according to the CDC. The problem is getting worse.
Antibiotics are over-prescribed and used extensively in livestock. Drug-makers have been reluctant to spend money on developing new antibiotics because they make more money on drugs for cancer and rare diseases.