Bacteria that can’t be treated by any antibiotic now in U.S.; Kentucky ranks first in one type of antibiotic-resistant infection

A colorized scanning  of E.Coli
Credit: CDC/Jancie Haney Carr

For the first time, researchers have found a person in the United States carrying bacteria that can’t be treated by “last resort” antibiotics.

The antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in the 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman’s urine was from a strain of E.coli bacteria that is resistant to an antibiotic called colistin, a last-resort drug with serious side effects that is used only when other antibiotics don’t work.

For example, colistin is used to treat the superbug carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, commonly called CRE, which health officials call a “nightmare bacteria.”

Nearly half of patients who become infected with CRE die from it, Lena H. Sun and Brady Dennis report for The Washington Post.

The Pennsylvania woman was able to be treated with other antibiotics, but the discovery of the colistin-resistant strain has placed health officials on alert.

Health officials say it’s not time to panic, but there is great concern that this colistin-resistance gene could spread to other bacteria that are also antibiotic-resistant creating many more bacteria strains that are untreatable, reports the Post.

The colistin-resistant strain was first found in pigs, raw pork and a few people in China in November. It has also been found in Europe.

“It basically shows us that the end of the road isn’t very far away for antibiotics — that we may be in a situation where we have patients in our intensive care units, or patients getting urinary-tract infections for which we do not have antibiotics,” CDC Director Tom Frieden told the Post.

Separate research found that the same colistin-resistant strain was found in a sample from one pig intestine in the United States. Colistin is widely used in Chinese livestock, but is not used in the United States, though plenty other antibiotics are, Tom Philpott reports for Mother Jones.

“Around 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States go to livestock farms, and of that, 60 percent are considered crucial to human medicine,” Philpott writes. Farmers mostly use antibiotics to help their livestock grow faster.

Yohei Doi, an infectious-disease doctor at the University of Pittsburgh, told the Post that he thought the widespread use of the antibiotic in Chinese livestock is likely what has led to the bacteria evolving and gaining resistance to the drug, and then leaping from livestock to humans through food.

Dr. Kevin Kavanagh, a retired physician and chairman of HealthWatch USA, said he isn’t convinced that the U.S. pig was infected by livestock from China. He noted that colistin is commonly used to treat CRE, cystic fibrosis and that a form of colistin can be found in many over-the-counter topical antibiotics.

“It’s probably more likely that the pig in the U.S. obtained this from the farmer’s medicine cabinet than from another pig in China,” Kavanagh said.

Experts in infectious diseases have called for action to curb the overuse of antibiotics in livestock worldwide. They have also warned that if these antibiotic-resistant bacteria continue to spread, treatment options could be severely limited.

Kavanagh  recognized the importance of research around the overuse of antibiotics in livestock but said that he thought more emphasis should be placed on the human side of healthcare related to antibiotic-resistance bacteria than the agriculture side of it.

 “The foremost emphasis should be placed on controlling antibiotic usage, controlling the spread of these organisms and surveillance of these organisms. … We don’t really know how many infections exist because we have a fragmented reporting system, but you know how many cows there are in each county,” he said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least 2 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and 23,000 die.

Kentucky ranked first in MRSA cases, July 2014 – June 2015.


Kentucky has one of the highest prescribing rates of antibiotics in the nation and also leads the nation in another antibiotic resistant infection called MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus areus).

“Overuse of antibiotics has got to stop,” says Kavanagh said. “The use of antibiotics needs to be curtailed to only when it is necessary. … Every time you take an antibiotic you remove your good bacteria and run a real risk of activating a superbug in your body which can cause you extreme harm and even death. You should only take antibiotics when you have to take them.”

Pharmaceutical companies have stepped away from developing new antibiotics because they aren’t very profitable. But William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseasestold WebMD, “The Infectious Diseases Society of America has been working with Congress and with industry to create incentives for the pharmaceutical industry to reopen its antibiotic research laboratories.”

In addition, “Late last year, as part of a broader budget deal, Congress agreed to give hundreds of millions of dollars to the federal agencies engaged in the battle against antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” reports the Post.

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