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Statement From Indian Health Ministry

India rejects superbug warnings

Rita Payne, eTN  Aug 15, 2010

(eTN) - The Indian government has rejected warnings that a new superbug that is resistant to even the most powerful antibiotics, originated in India and that it may not be safe for UK patients to travel there for surgery. A statement by the Indian health ministry says that “while such organisms may be circulating more commonly in the world due to international travel, ... to link this with the safety of surgery hospitals in India and citing isolated examples to show that due to the presence of such organisms in the Indian environment, India is not a safe place to visit, is wrong.”

The statement refers to the "sensation" created by a report in the medical journal, Lancet, published on August 11, 2010. In the article, experts said bacteria that make an enzyme called NDM-1 have traveled back with UK patients who went abroad to countries like India and Pakistan for treatments such as cosmetic surgery. The Indian health ministry acknowledges that the article broadly describes the profile of the bacteria but objects to the conclusions, which it says “are loaded with inference that these resistant genes/organisms possibly originated in India and it may not be safe for UK patients to opt for surgery in India. The concluding sentence presents a frightening picture, which is not supported by any scientific data.”

The statement adds that “over the decades, it is known that plasmids are present in gram negative bacteria, they can be transmitted among bacteria, and they may also encode for resistance to many drugs. However, this is a phenomenon which occurs in nature – in the environment - maybe [in] intestines of humans and animals universally. There might be billions of such happenings at any moment.”

“It should have been highlighted that getting [an] infection by such drug-resistant bacteria is a matter of chance; it is a global phenomenon and is preventable by sound infection prevention strategies, which are followed in any good hospital.” The Indian statement noted that similar plasmids have been reported from Israel, USA, Greece, and even from Scotland.

Although there have been only about 50 cases identified in the UK so far, scientists fear it could go global. NDM-1 can exist inside different bacteria, like E-coli, and it makes them resistant to one of the most powerful groups of antibiotics - carbapenems. These are generally reserved for use in emergencies and to combat hard-to-treat infections caused by other multi-resistant bacteria. Experts fear NDM-1 could now jump to other strains of bacteria that are already resistant to many other antibiotics. Utimately, this could produce dangerous infections that would spread rapidly from person to person and be almost impossible to treat.

India rejects superbug warnings
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