A new super bug, NDM-1, has surfaced and it is unlike any ever known in history. It works by changing the genes in a bacterium and threatens everyone worldwide. The ND part of the name stands for New Delhi, a city in India, where doctors first identified it. The M stands for metallo-beta-lactamase, which is the gene changing part.
Most of the first victims went to India or Pakistan for cheap plastic surgery or went to a hospital for an unexpected illness or injury while visiting one of these countries. It has now spread to several countries including the USA and Canada.
Doctors do not know you have it until the antibiotics prescribed do not work.
The symptoms of this new strain are the same as they are for the bacterium that causes the disease. It depends on which one the sufferer was unfortunate enough to get.
Right now the gene affects the E-coli, Kebsiella pneumoniae, Enterobacter and Citrobacter, the coliform gram-negative enteric bacilli. However, scientists warn that the gene could affect other bacteria in the future.
Most people are familiar with Ecoli. The bacteria are responsible for many of the food scares in recent times. It affects healthy foods such as lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and strawberries, as well as poorly cooked meat and other food. It causes diarrhea and can affect the kidneys resulting in grave injury or even death.
Kebsiella pneumoniae is the bacterium that causes pneumonia. It also causes other respiratory and skin problems along with high fevers.
Citrobacter causes vomiting and urinary tract infections.
Most patients get well with prescribed antibiotics. However the introduction of the new gene altering substance changes the game. Antibiotics will not work when the gene is present. This includes the carbapenems, a last resort type antibiotic.
In India and Pakistan, antibiotics are common and require no prescription. Anyone with the cash can walk into a pharmacy and buy it. People used these medicines for whatever ailed them (whether they needed it or not) and stopped taking it when they felt better. Thus, strong bacteria survived and grew immune to them, and Illness caused by the stronger bacteria became unstoppable.
As with other super bugs, many cases come from hospital contact when someone breaches cleanliness protocols, perhaps not washing their hands before seeing a patient.
In one case, doctors isolated a patient with a gene-induced illness was in a distant hospital room. Only one staff member was allowed to care for him/her on each shift. They had to wear disposable gowns, masks, and gloves, which were thrown into a hazardous waste bin after using. After the patient’s discharge, doctors ordered the room fumigated, the gene contained and destroyed. No further cases developed in that hospital.
Doctors say that the best way of preventing the spread of this horror is to observe standards of cleanliness. Careful hand washing and not touching the eyes, nose, or mouth help.
The medical community is now working on an international tracking system to count the number of cases, keep track of its spread to other countries, and to document measures taken, what worked, and what did not work.
What you can do.
The main thing is to stay calm. The number of cases is small compared to the number of people in the world. Wash your hands often and avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. This helps prevent illness in general. Cook meat thoroughly and observe safe practices in the kitchen.
If you get sick and the doctor prescribes antibiotics, take them all unless he/she says to stop. Do not give unused antibiotics to someone else who seems sick. By using antibiotics safely we can avoid growing any more super bugs while scientists work on a cure for this gene altering one.
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