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Drug-resistant bacterium in North American food supply


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Scientists have found a previously undetected drug-resistant bacterium in the North American food supply.

Routine testing of raw squid that was for sale in Saskatoon, Canada revealed a carbapenem-resistant strain of bacteria. Carbapenem is a "last resort" antibiotic, given to patients for whom more common antibiotics have failed. As resistance to our last line of defense grows, public health officials caution that we may get closer to being unable to treat some infections.

The location -- a grocery store -- is troubling to researchers, as it potentially expands the exposure risk from a relatively small slice of the public to a much larger sector.

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For gonorrhoea, a dangerous sexually-transmitted disease that infects more than a million people across the world every day, antibiotic treatments are failing fast as superbug forms of the bacteria that causes it outpace them.

At least 10 countries - including Austria, Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Japan, Norway, South Africa, Slovenia and Sweden, now report having patients with gonorrhoea that is totally untreatable.

Only a handful of new antibiotics have been developed and brought to market in the past few decades, and it is a race against time to find more as bacterial infections increasingly evolve into "superbugs" resistant to even the most powerful last-resort medicines reserved for extreme cases.

One of the best known superbugs, MRSA, is alone estimated to kill around 19,000 people every year in the United States - far more than HIV and AIDS - and a similar number in Europe.


The WHO said in some countries, because of resistance, carbapenems now do not work in more than half of people with common hospital-acquired infections caused by a bacteria called K. pneumoniae, such as pneumonia, blood infections, and infections in newborn babies and intensive-care patients.

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When I was at Uni, 40 years ago, I was friends with some of the medical students in my year. Antibiotic resistance was a cause for concern then. It has taken about 80years since Fleming and Florey & Chain discovered and developed the first penicillins for us to squander their legacy. Inappropriate prescribing to humans (eg for viral conditions), and use in farming as a 'growth promoter ' by the dosing of otherwise healthy animals being the major factor of overuse allowing resistance to develop by natural selection. Political inertia in the face of resistance from big pharma and the agri business has meant little or nothing seems to have been done to address the problem. It was raised in the media here in the UK about two years ago and STILL nothing seems to be happening.

As good as any short explanation in layman's terms of agricultural use and it effects on resistance can be found on this website- see Sequoyah's A Special Place, Concord Five, Chapter 4. http://www.awesomedude.com/sequoyahsplace/Stories/ASP/htcon5.htm#Chapter_Four . The patient, has been found unconscious in the slurry pit of a dairy farm.

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A major problem with drug resistant bacterium is that there has been no major research into either the development of new antibiotics or alternative treatment for the last forty or so years. There is no major economic incentive for the drug companies to invest in antibiotics as the potential income from them does not justify the cost of research and development. There is also no economic incentive for any research into the major alternative, the use of Bactophages, as these cannot be patented so no protected income stream can be developed.

There is a need for governments and world institutions like the WHO to come up with alternative funding for the research and development of new antibiotics and alternative treatments. There is also a need to review the medical licensing framework to provide a means for alternative treatments to be brought into use without the expensive testing and validation that are demanded of new drugs. Currently there are known Bactophages that can be used against a number of drug resistant bacterium but their use in most places is prohibited as nobody has run the clinical trial to verify them, although some have been used for years in places like Russia and Hungary that did not have access to Western antibiotics.

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