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Government health officials have detected an antibiotic-resistant form of E. coli in the U.S. for the first time, prompting a multi-agency investigation to determine the source of the bacteria and how to prevent the further spread.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the discovery of an isolated case involving a Pennsylvania woman infected with E. coli bacteria carrying the MCR-1 gene, which allows the bacteria to resist antibiotics. The agency is currently working with other federal and state agencies to prevent any transmission of the infection to avoid an outbreak.
E. coli is a foodborne bacteria that lives in the intestines of people and animals and can become pathogenic causing severe bowel pain and diarrhea when exposed outside of the human intestinal tract. The bacteria are commonly transmitted through contaminated water or food, or through contact with animals and infected persons.
Typically, E. coli symptoms cause mild to severe diarrhea and abdominal cramps, bloody stools, and sometimes minor fevers lasting between five and 10 days. Individuals such as young children or the sick and elderly may be affected more because of a weakened immune system that if left untreated could develop into Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), which could lead to kidney failure and even death.
Most of the time, E. coli infections can be treated without the use of antibiotics by remaining hydrated and properly nourished. However, depending on the patient’s condition the use of antibiotics may be necessary to prevent further spread through the blood stream and the prevention of HUS.
The newly discovered E. coli infection containing the MCR-1 gene raises a major concern for public health, as it is the first of its kind ever reported in the United States.
The MCR-1 gene is what allows the bacteria in which it resides to become resistant to antibiotic treatments due to its genetic makeup and resistance to the antibiotic colistin. The gene is found on a plasmid, which is a small piece of DNA that is capable of moving from one bacterium to another, allowing it to share its colistin resistance that can lead to the development of other resistant bacteria.
The gene was found in a urine sample of a Pennsylvania woman with no recent travel outside of the U.S. Officials from the CDC and the Department of Defense (DOD) are currently working to identify close contacts of the infected individual and testing household items to prevent further spread of the antibiotic-resistant gene.
The CDC is designing an Antibiotic Resistance Lab Network across the U.S. that will provide seven to eight lab facilities in major cities and territories to detect and respond more effectively to resistant organisms recovered from human samples. The network’s facilities are set to launch in the fall of 2016 and are anticipated to generate faster and stronger infection control measures to prevent widespread outbreaks.