A potential second case of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria gene MCR-1 may have found its way to American shores. Pending further study, it is believed this superbug was found in a sample of E. coli bacteria obtained from a patient in New York. This development follows closely on the heels of its appearance last month in a patient in Pennsylvania with a UTI. Its presence and the possibility of its spread is a source of great alarm within the international healthcare community.
What is MCR-1?
MCR-1, discovered last year in China, is a gene that makes a bacterium resistant to treatment with antibiotics, most significantly colistin, an antibiotic of last resort. Typically, though, UTIs are treated with the antibiotics Macrobid or Bactrim. Of great concern is that bacteria can share the MCR-1 gene, making it possible for it to transfer to other bacteria, including the carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae, or CRE. And, because the MCR-1 gene is able to transfer, these now antibiotic-resistant bacteria are able to survive, multiply, and replace those that were killed off. The existence of these superbugs poses tremendous healthcare problems, both nationally and worldwide, with multiple international health agencies tracking its spread.
How Do Bacteria Become Antibiotic-Resistant?
Bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics at an alarming rate, primarily due to over or indiscriminate use of antibiotics. Whenever an antibiotic is taken, it kills bacteria that are susceptible to its effects. However, if all of the bacteria are not killed, they mutate slightly in response to the drug, increasing the likelihood they will no longer be vulnerable to its effects. Through the basic processes of genetic mutation, adaptation, and reproduction, bacteria are evolving at a rate that is faster than medical research can maintain.
In addition, some bacteria have the ability to neutralize an antibiotic’s effects before they can be harmed or alter the target zone of the drug so it does not interfere with the organisms functionality.
If MCR-1 continues to spread unchecked, the health consequences will be devastating, resulting in untreatable illnesses and infections, more extensive health problems, an increased death rate, and skyrocketing healthcare costs.
Antibiotic Resistance Diagram
How to Slow Down or Prevent the Growth of Antibiotic Resistance
The primary cause of the development of drug-resistant bacteria has been the widespread use of antibiotics to treat non-bacterial illnesses or diseases, particularly viruses. While dosing with an antibiotic to treat a cold or the flu may seem like the right thing to do, it is only a placebo effect; in fact, it actually creates multiple problems. Because antibiotics attack only bacteria, not viruses, every dose increases the likelihood that surviving bacteria will become more resistant while at the same time the drug will have no impact on the illness or condition. Thus, the individual is still sick while bacteria actually get healthier and stronger. Contrary to popular myth, it is not the individual who develops resistance to antibiotics, it is the bacteria that does.
It is important that antibiotics only be used to treat bacterial infections and on a controlled basis. After a diagnosis is made, germ-specific (rather than broad spectrum) antibiotics can be prescribed to treat the condition. In addition, it is vital that patients take the full regimen of medication to ensure that all the offending bacteria have been eliminated to reduce the risk of their developing resistance.