Read More: New Scientist
The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that a woman who died in Washington State last August was infected with Klebsiella bacteria that was resistant to 26 different antibiotics – everything her hospital was able to the throw at it. We don’t know how many totally antibiotic-resistant infections there are now, says Mike Sharland, at St George’s, University of London. A World Health Organisation tracking project has only just got started. But according to the CDC, at least 90 per cent of multi-resistant infections in the US can still be killed by at least one antibiotic of last resort. Resurrecting old drugs The woman probably caught the resistant bacteria when she was hospitalised for a broken leg in India, where antibiotics misuse has led to soaring levels of antimicrobial resistance. Last October, researchers reported that more than a third of blood infections in newborn babies involving Klebsiella and similar bacteria were so multi-resistant they were virtually untreatable. For Acinetobacter, a massive 82 per cent were nearly unbeatable. Such infections “threaten the return of a pre-antibiotic era in Indian neonatal intensive care units,” the study’s authors warned. That is not just a problem for India, says Sharland. His team has just published their findings that, across Europe, hospital-acquired infections strike an average of 10 to 17 per cent of babies treated in neonatal or intensive care units, and other studies suggest that many of these may be multi-resistant. Tragically, the infection of the woman in Washington State might have been cured by one drug that is licensed for uses like this in Europe, but not in the US. Fosfomycin is an old drug that was replaced by more modern cephalosporins in the 1980s. But researchers are now trying to resurrect and re-license such drugs for use in the increasing number of cases where newer ones fail.