Antibiotic-resistance being spread from flies to people

pharmafile | February 9, 2017 | News story | Research and Development Antibiotic-resistant, bacteria, colistin, mcr-1 

There has been a raft of news regarding antibiotic-resistance in the last few weeks, from the very good to the very bad – which makes this story, about the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from faeces to flies, the ugly. The research emerges, again, from China where studies of farm environments found that chickens, flies and even swallows exhibited the gene linked to resistance to the last-resort antibiotic, colistin.

China has been using colistin to promote growth in farm animals, with 8000 tonnes of the drug being administered to animals every year. The use of the drug in animals will be outlawed in China from April, of this year, onwards but there are worries that this may not be enough. China is the biggest producer of colistin worldwide, with the world’s largest factory that has the capacity to produce 10,000 tonnes a year.

China will begin using colistin in the treatment of people immediately following the ban on its use in animals, meaning that there is chance that the mrc-1 gene, responsible for resistance to colistin, could begin to escalate within people.

This is because instances of the mcr-1 genes incidence in humans are already on the rise, both globally and on a more local level in China. The gene is thought to have developed in farms, with the team responsible for the report finding that there was resistance to both colistin and carbapenem, another vital antibiotic, in dog faeces and in flies on farms tested.

The worry with the gene having being found in flies is that they have the ability to spread the bacteria far and wide. It would explain why patients in hospitals in cities, far away from farms, were also susceptible to exhibiting the gene.

If the gene spreads wide enough then, when colistin is used to treat humans, as it will be in China in April, there could be a greater emergence of resistance than expected. This becomes more pronounced when taken into consideration other details of the research from Cardiff University, UK, who found that of the bacteria examined at farm sites, almost all possessed the mcr-1 gene – just not all of the bacteria were actively using the gene. Once colistin is regularly administered in humans, there could be an explosion in bacteria actively using the gene.

To further add complications to the antibiotic-resistant bacteria struggle is the fact that swallows were also found to be carrying the gene. The migration of swallows could further spread the bacteria and the gene into Southeast Asia. 

Ben Hargreaves

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