70 percent of rural Vietnam community carries superbugs

By Phan Anh   January 25, 2019 | 02:02 am PT
70 percent of rural Vietnam community carries superbugs
A close up look of an E. coli bacteria colony. Photo by Shutterstock/fusebulb
Antibiotics-resistant bacteria have been found in the intestines of 70 percent of citizens in a Vietnamese rural community.

This alarming fact was reported Wednesday by the bi-annual medical publication Infectious Disease Special Edition.

A study conducted in an unnamed Vietnamese village of 7,730 residents revealed that 70 percent of them were carrying colistin-resistant Escherichia coli in their stool samples, said Yoshimasa Yamamoto, a professor emeritus at Osaka University, Japan, who conducted the study with his colleagues.

The World Health Organization has designated Colistin a last-resort antibiotic to treat multidrug-resistant bacteria. While not commonly used by humans, it is frequently given to livestock and poultry instead.

Escherichia coli, commonly known as E. coli, is a rod-shaped bacteria strain normally found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms. While most strains are harmless, some can cause food poisoning in their hosts, including humans.

Yamamoto noted that the bacteria’s prevalence was much higher than what he and his team had predicted.

"This is the first time that such an extremely high colonization rate of colistin-resistant E. coli [...] in developing countries has been seen," he said.

He said they suspect that the bacteria was disseminated from livestock and the environment. The bacteria carry a mobile colistin resistance gene, which allow them to resist the effects of the aforementioned antibiotic.

"Almost everybody in that society is carrying this dangerous mobile resistance gene," said Yamamoto.

While the particular strain of E. coli found in the study was nonpathogenic, its widespread prevalence is a worrying sign that a strain of "nightmare bacteria" resistant to all kinds of antibiotics available could arise in the future.

"[The bacteria] don’t cause health problems immediately, but it’s clear that the number of refractory infections for which antibiotics don’t work will increase, which will become a great menace to clinical practice," he said.

Finding out the mechanism of how the mobile gene has spread, and making public health interventions like strictly maintaining hand hygiene are vital for preventing the spread of the resistant bacteria, Yamamoto added.

He also stressed the importance of international surveillance systems and studying the abuse of colistin in agriculture.

"In this borderless society, drug-resistant bacteria quickly spreads beyond national and regional borders, so it is necessary to strengthen international surveillance systems and promptly take preventative measures," Yamamoto said.

The World Health Organization has listed Vietnam among the list of nations with the highest rate of antibiotic-resistant infections, at 33 percent of patients. This conclusion was also reached by IMS Health, a Connecticut-based healthcare data company, in a 2015 report on global antibiotics usage.

The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in Vietnam has been attributed to the country’s increased antibiotics sale in recent years. Indiscriminate and unnecessary prescription and use of antibiotics are partly to blame, experts said at a health conference in Hanoi last year.

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