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Something Else to be Worried About

Published: December 15, 2010

The breeding of superbugs resistant to antibiotics is a terrifying development. In the US, staph infections are more problematic now than ever, as are gastrointestinal illnesses derived from Clostridium dificile, and many other bacterial diseases.

In other countries there are often few restrictions on antibiotic use, so they are thrown at colds, flu, allergies and myriad other non-bacterial illnesses upon which they have no effect. This rampant overuse breeds bacteria that do not slow down or die in the presence of the usual treatments. India is notorious for its lack of restrictions on antibiotics and now a new bacterial gene that confers resistance to almost all antibiotics has gotten entrenched there.

The issue of medical tourism – getting treatments overseas at much lower costs – has compounded this problem. Patients are returning home from India and bringing this nasty resistance with them. Three separate cases have been detected so far and the fear is that many more will follow allowing these new strains to get established in the New World. Compounding the issue is the fact that different types of bacteria can swap genes back and forth between them even if they are not closely related. This means that any patient returning from India or Pakistan should be viewed by doctors with extra caution and patients contemplating overseas treatments need to factor in one more risk into that equation.