Swiss Tourists Carried Superbugs From India: Study

In a small study of 38 tourists returning from India, Swiss researchers found that three quarters of them brought back a multidrug-resistant superbug.

AsianScientist (Jul. 28, 2016) – Three quarters of people in a small group of 38 tourists returning from India brought back with them a multidrug-resistant ‘superbug,’ according to a new study from Switzerland. The study’s findings have been published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

The spread of multidrug-resistant Gram-negative bacteria represents a serious issue for the healthcare system worldwide as our antibiotic arsenal is becoming too limited. About 700,000 deaths every year worldwide are linked to common antimicrobial therapies becoming ineffective against these superbugs. In this scenario, colistin is the last active antibiotic option available for Gram-negative bacterial infections.

Microbiologists at the Institute for Infectious Diseases of the University of Bern, Switzerland, studied the pre- and post-trip stools of 38 people living in Switzerland and traveling to India during 2015. The participants of the study frequently visited other countries in the 12 months before going to India, but never suffered diarrhea. However, upon returning to Switzerland from India, 39 percent of the travelers suffered from traveler’s diarrhea and other symptoms, though antibiotics were not taken.

By analyzing the bacterial population of the intestinal tract of these travelers the researchers found that 76 percent, or almost eight in every ten tourists returning from India, were colonized with superbugs. Molecular studies indicated that these life-threatening bacteria were acquired from the environment or the food chain in India, or both. Interestingly, healthy people carrying superbugs in the intestinal tract can have a high risk to further develop infections such as urinary tract infections or bacteremia due to these difficult-to-treat bacteria.

More importantly, according to corresponding author Dr. Andrea Endimiani, 11 percent of the travelers had in their stools colistin-resistant E. coli strains, including those possessing the mcr-1 gene. The mcr-1 gene can promote and transfer colistin resistance in other Gram-negative bacteria of human and animal origin. This new mechanism of resistance against colistin was first discovered in China in November 2015.

The article can be found at: Bernasconi et al. (2016) Travelers Can Import Colistin-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae, Including Those Possessing the Plasmid-Mediated mcr-1 Gene.


Source: University of Bern; Photo: Eric Erbe/Wikimedia Commons/CC.
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