Drug-Resistant Germs in India Spreading to West, Scientists Say

People who travel to India and Pakistan for cheaper health care may be at risk from a new type of drug-resistant bacteria, an international team of scientists reported.

The researchers found a gene that enables the bacteria to resist treatment with a class of antibiotics called carbapenems in 1.9 percent of samples from patients in the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Haryana, according to the study in the journal Lancet. Reports from 37 patients in the U.K. who had the resistant strains were also analyzed, and the researchers found that most had received treatment at hospitals in India and Pakistan.

When carbapenems are ineffective, doctors are limited to two drugs: Colistin, a 50-year-old medicine known to cause kidney damage, and Pfizer Inc.’s Tygacil. If millions of people in the Indian subcontinent must rely on these last-resort medications, it’s only a matter of time before resistance develops for these drugs, Timothy Walsh, who led the study, said yesterday in a telephone interview.

In the last three to four years, this kind of resistance has “increased dramatically in India and continues to increase,” said Walsh, a professor of medical microbiology and antimicrobial resistance at Cardiff University in Wales. “The possibility of this becoming a global problem very quickly is immense.”

The resistant bugs belong to a category of bacteria with a genetic mutation that lets them produce an enzyme that breaks down antibiotics such as AstraZeneca Plc’s Merrem.

U.K. Reports

Hospitals in the U.K. began reporting cases of patients with this type of resistance in mid-2008, said David Livermore, director of the antibiotic resistance monitoring unit at the U.K.’s Health Protection Agency. In July 2009, the London-based agency issued an alert asking doctors to look out for these resistant bacterial strains in patients who had visited hospitals in the Indian subcontinent. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed up with an advisory in June 2010.

As the number increases of patients who travel to countries such as India for cheaper medical treatment, they need to know there is a risk of infection while staying in a hospital, Livermore said yesterday in a telephone interview.

So-called medical tourism is a lucrative business for high- end Indian hospital chains. Last week, Fortis Healthcare Ltd., India’s second biggest hospital operator said it wants to double income from overseas patients this year.

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