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A New Superbug Attacks Our Last Line Of Antibiotic Defense47:06Download

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A new antibiotic-resistant superbug emerges in animals in China. We’ll look at the threat and its reach.

This illustration made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the Shigella bacteria. On Thursday, April 2, 2015, the CDC said a drug-resistant strain of a stomach bug made its way into the U.S. and spread, causing more than 200 illnesses since last May. Many cases were traced to people who had recently traveled to the Dominican Republic, India or other countries. (AP Photo/CDC)
This illustration made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the Shigella bacteria. On Thursday, April 2, 2015, the CDC said a drug-resistant strain of a stomach bug made its way into the U.S. and spread, causing more than 200 illnesses since last May. Many cases were traced to people who had recently traveled to the Dominican Republic, India or other countries. (AP Photo/CDC)

Antibiotics make so much possible that we just take for granted. Knocking out infections before they kill. All kinds of medical procedures, therapies that would be too risky if bacteria could move in. But superbugs are growing. Antibiotic-resistant and hard to handle. The latest, in China and Denmark, looks practically impossible to handle. A gene called MCR-1 creeping into bacteria and making those bacteria immune to our very most aggressive drugs. So pay attention. This hour On Point. fear that the ultimate antibiotic-resistant superbug has arrived.  And is spreading.
-- Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Maryn McKenna, medical journalist and author. Writes the Germination blog for National Geographic. Author of "Superbug" and "Beating Back The Devil." (@marynmck)

Lance Price, head of George Washington University's Antibiotic Resistance Action Center, where he is also a genetic epidemiologist and professor in the Miliken Institute's School of Public Health. (@battlesuperbugs)

Dr. Robert Skov, head of bacterial, surveillance and infection control at the at the Statens Serum Institut's Department of Microbiology and Infection Control in Copenhagen, Denmark.

From Tom’s Reading List

Germination: More Cases And Countries For MCR, Last-Ditch Antibiotic Resistance — "In human medicine, colistin is a rarely used drug, a survivor from the earliest decades of antibiotic development that was left on the shelf for decades because it was toxic. But in veterinary medicine, colistin has had wide use, which is probably what caused this resistance factor to emerge. Now, with the loss of other antibiotics to resistance, colistin use in humans is climbing, and that could set the stage for this effectively untreatable resistance to bloom."

STAT: Superbug resistant to last-resort antibiotics turns up in Europe — "Colistin resistance has been seen before, but not in this form. What makes this situation unique — and unsettling — is that the gene that makes the bacteria colistin-resistant is contained in a plasmid, a mobile piece of DNA. Plasmids can easily move from one bacterium to another, both within a family of bacteria and to other families, as well. That means E. coli carrying mcr-1 can share it with other E. coli, as well as pass it to bacteria like Klebsiella pneumoniae."

New Scientist: Bacteria now resistant even to ‘last resort’ antibiotics — "Until now, a type of bacteria known as Gram negative have remained susceptible to one particular class of antibiotics, called polymyxins. These have become known as 'last resort' antibiotics, increasingly used to treat infections that resist every other kind."

Watch Maryn McKenna's May 2015 TED Talk

This program aired on December 16, 2015.

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