India Could Foster Drug-Resistant Bubonic Plague

Superbugs spreading out of the subcontinent
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted May 8, 2012 1:08 PM CDT
In this photograph taken on October 20, 2010 antibiotics are displayed at a chemist's shop in Mumbai.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – Could the world soon witness an encore performance from a new, drug-resistant Black Death? It's increasingly possible, because thanks to a combination of rampant antibiotic use and poor hygiene and sanitation, India has become a hotbed of "superbugs" that don't respond to antibiotics—not even high-powered remedies of last resort, Bloomberg reports. What's more, these bugs are spreading around the world; more than 40 countries have discovered them in patients' blood and urine so far.

Antibiotic resistance can turn typically unthreatening ailments into killers. "There is really nothing we can turn to," says one public health official in Toronto of the superbacteria. "Its potential is probably greater than any other organism." The bugs are so strong thanks to a gene called NDM-1, which travels easily across bacteria species—which means it could easily attach itself to Yersinia pestis, aka bubonic plague. "It's a matter of time and chance," says one geneticist.

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