Earlier this month, a frightening report warned of an antibiotic-resistant superbug which might kill as many as 10 million people worldwide by 2050. Now it looks like the first case of that superbug has been documented in the US.
Image: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention
According to a study published today by the American Society for Microbiology, a 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman had a strain of E. coli that did not respond to the antibiotic colistin, which is a powerful drug-of-last-resort for treating particularly stubborn infections. This type of colistin-resistant E. coli has been found in several other countries — namely in the intestines of pigs, though it hasn’t appeared in Australia — but this is the first time it’s been seen in the US. The CDC is investigating the source of the superbug.
There are alternatives to antibiotics, like strains of predatory bacteria that are currently being tested by DARPA, or, surprisingly, more powerful superbugs. But it’s widely agreed among experts that the “antibiotic apocalypse” is impending. As Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, wrote in a recent report warning of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, “the golden age of antibiotics which the world has taken for granted for well over fifty years has ended.”
“It basically shows us that the end of the road isn’t very far away for antibiotics — that we may be in a situation where we have patients in our intensive-care units, or patients getting urinary tract infections for which we do not have antibiotics,” CDC Director Tom Frieden told the Washington Post.