Drug-resistant "Superbug" Found in Illinois

By Ally Clark and Nesita Kwan
|  Tuesday, Sep 14, 2010  |  Updated 3:30 PM CDT
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An Illinois resident is one of three people in the United States infected with a drug resistant "superbug," but an infectious disease specialist said there's no reason for the public to be unnecessarily alarmed.

NDM-1, the technical name for the superbug, refers to bacteria that have been made resistant to nearly all antibiotics by a new gene.  All three U.S. cases -- in Illinois, California, and Massachusetts -- involve patients who were traveling in India, where the problem is widespread.

In recent years, more and more Americans have traveled to that region of the world for hospital procedures, finding them more affordable than if they were done in the  U.S.

The gene has mostly been found in bacteria that cause gut or urinary infections.  It is unknown how many deaths have been cause by the gene as there are no centralized methods for tracking it.

Experts surmise that because antibiotics are dispensed over the counter in India, more people are taking them unnecessarily.  That gives bacteria more opportunities to develop sophisticated ways to neutralize the drugs.

"Even though they are resistant to so many antibiotics, there are still some that do work" against NDM-1, said Loyola University infectious disease specialist Dr. Jaime Belmares.

He emphasized that there's no reason for residents to "freak out," as NDM-1 has only been found in medical settings.

"All the patients recovered after being treated and appear to be doing fine," he added.

A recent study showing that Chicagoans were doing an excellent job of washing their hands offers good news because the gene is carried by bacteria that can spread hand-to-mouth.

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