'Superbug' found in China

08:07, October 27, 2010      

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Chinese health officials confirmed Tuesday that the nation had seen its first infections of a multi-drug-resistant strain of bacteria, and medical experts used the announcement to renew warnings that widespread abuse of antibiotics is making people more prone to "superbugs."

Ni Daxin, an official with the nation's Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said at a press conference that two cases involving the New Delhi NDM-1 bacterial strain were detected in samples taken in March by the local CDC in the northwestern Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, and another case was found in southeastern Fujian Province.

The samples were taken within the pastseven months for other medical testing, but no information was given as to why there was such a long delay in reporting the infections.

NDM-1 is known as a superbug because of its high resistance to almost all antibiotics, including the most powerful class called Carbapenems, the Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal reported in August.

The samples from Ningxia were taken from the feces of two infants born March 8 and March 11, Ni said, both were born underweight and showed symptoms of diarrhea and respiration infections two days after birth. One also suffered from oxygen deficiency.

One of the babies recovered after nine days in a hospital, and the other after 14 days, and they are healthy now, Ni said.

"Although the two babies were diagnosed as carrying the NDM-1 bacteria, there was no link between the bacteria and their illnesses," Ni said.

The third sample, from Fujian, was found in an 83-year-old, who died June 11. Ni said the primary cause of death was terminal lung cancer, but but whether the drug-resistant bacteria played a role in his death was unclear.

Neither the global number of superbug cases nor the death toll from NDM-1 were immediately available from the World Health Organization, but the highly resistant bacteria has reportedly infected hundreds of people and killed at least nine in 16 countries and regions, including Britain, the US and Taiwan, with India believed to be the origin.

In August, the WHO urged countries to implement infection-control measures in hospitals to limit the spread of superbugs and to reinforce national policies on the prudent use of antibiotics.

Last month, China's Ministry of Health ordered 19 hospitals in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai to monitor patients with weak immune systems, those in critical condition, and those who had received emergency treatment.

However, Chinese hygiene experts have downplayed threats posed by the superbugs, despite no effective drugs to combat them, and have urged the public to strictly follow protocols when using antibiotics.

Ni Yuxing, from the Shanghai-based Ruijin Hospital, said that "Given China's large population, the three cases are not grave enough to trigger public panic."

"Superbug infections only take place through physical contact in hospitals, so hospitals have to upgrade measures to prevent further infections," he said, urging people to pay special attention to personal hygiene and wash their hands often.

Ni added, "The emergence of the superbug bacteria sounds a warning to many Chinese who hold the misconception that antibiotics are a cure-all to almost all diseases."

By Guo Qiang, Global Times
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