The Scary Implications of India's Wave of Baby Deaths

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria is out of control
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 4, 2014 12:01 PM CST
The Scary Implications of India's Wave of Baby Deaths
A man carries his newborn baby at a hospital in Gauhati, India.   (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

India sees 800,000 newborns die each year, but 58,000 of those deaths were particularly noteworthy—and alarming—last year. Those infants died of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, according to a recent study cited by the New York Times, which reports the evidence is mounting that a sizable amount of the bacteria living in everything from India's water to its soil to its sewage can't be defeated with almost any antibiotic. But the wave of newborns being born with these infections may indicate that these bacteria are also living in pregnant women's bodies, neonatologists believe. "Our hypothesis is that resistant infections in newborns may be originating from the maternal genital tract and not just the environment," said one.

But the environment is far from a sanitary one: Unicef surveyed 94 hospitals and medical centers in India's largest state, Rajasthan, in 2013, and found that as many as 70% could have contaminated water. Even more had no soap at their sinks. What they did have was antibiotics, which are freely dispensed, so much so that one state has for years dosed babies with antibiotics even if they were seemingly healthy. It creates a vicious cycle, where drug-resistant bacteria exits via hospital sewage, enters rivers and canals, and can infect pregnant women. Dr. Timothy R. Walsh, a professor of microbiology at Cardiff University, tells the Times that "India’s dreadful sanitation, uncontrolled use of antibiotics and overcrowding ... has created a tsunami of antibiotic resistance that is reaching just about every country in the world." To wit, bacteria whose genetic code has its origins in India has been found in the US, among other countries. Read the Times' full story here. (More India stories.)

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