Pa. health department continues investigation of ‘superbug’

    Last week, the U.S. Department of Defense announced it found the country’s first case of a bacteria resistant to last-resort antibiotics in Pennsylvania, and now the state Department of Health is in the early stages of an intense investigation.

    Because of Pennsylvania privacy laws, state health officials would not share any details about the patient, however the Department of Health said it is working very closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to see if the resistant bacteria is spreading to others.

    The CDC, for its part, has had this bug on its radar since a case emerged in China last year.

    Dr. Beth Bell, the CDC’s lead on antibiotic resistance, said the E. coli bacteria found in the Pennsylvania woman had a gene mutation that made one antibiotic of last resort ineffective. But the gene is not resistant to all antibiotics.

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    “The presence of the mcr-1 gene, however, is very important because of its ability to share this colistin-resistance with other bacteria,” Bell said. “And that raises the risk that a pan-resistant bacteria could develop.”

    “This is not something that we can eradicate. So what we have to do is detect faster, strengthen our prevention strategies, and be very, very quick in controlling outbreaks when they’re identified,” she said.

    The CDC is working to enhance the capacity of regional and state labs to detect and respond to human cases of resistant pathogens.

    The bacteria can likely only be transmitted through direct contact, investigators said, and the risk to the general public is minimal.

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