Researchers found that 20% of the animals tested as well as 16 humans carried MCR-1. It was also found in 15 percent of raw meat samples tested.
“The emergence of MCR-1 heralds the breach of the last group of antibiotics,” researchers wrote in the paper.
These findings are not scary nor are they shocking according to infectious disease specialist Amesh A. Adalja, MD, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
“Antibiotic resistance is a steady march that’s been going on for a long time,” he says. However, he says, bacteria are always going to become resistant to our antibiotics — it’s just what they do.
Antibiotic resistance is a term used to describe a type of bacteria that has become resistant to a particular type of antibiotic drugs. “It can mean being resistant to one, three, or all forms of antibiotics,” explained Adalja.
William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, went on the record and explained how resistance develops:
“Bacteria types number in the millions and they multiply rapidly. When they multiply genetic mutations occur giving them resistant to whatever antibiotic is in use. Even as the prescribed antibiotic kills off susceptible bacteria, it leaves behind resistant ones. They then grow and if spread to other people, become dominant. This in turn increases the odds another person will becomes infected with what is now an antibiotic-resistant bacteria.’
This latest discovery about MCR-1 is particularly troubling, because it breaches medicine’s last line of defense: When doctors encounter bacteria resistant to more common forms of antibiotics like penicillin, ampicillin and tetracycline, they might turn to colistin.
“When we see a hint that colistin-resistant bacteria are out there, it becomes alarming because we don’t have very many new drugs,” says Adalja.
According to Adalja, Colistin is “our backup treatment but it is not used as often as front line antibiotics because it can cause serious side effects like kidney or nerve damage.”
Adalja added, “Even though we don’t like to use colistin, it’s good to know that it’s there.”
While all antibiotic resistance cannot be totally stopped, Schaffner says people can take steps to lessen its spread. As individuals, he says people should limit the use antibiotics to cases only where absolutely necessary. And then only for the amount of time prescribed.
“Patients need to be aware that colds are viral infections and will not be benefited by antibiotics,” he says.
Schaffner also called out the livestock industry who contributes to the problem by vastly overusing antibiotics to treat cattle, swine and poultry as well as in aquaculture where salmon are concerned.
“Many companies are phasing out this practice due to consumer demand, but we can still do our part by purchasing meat that is labeled “antibiotic free” or “raised without antibiotics,” said Schaffner.
While MR-1 has currently only been found in China, medical researchers say it’s just a matter of time before it spreads to other parts of the globe.
“Although currently confined to China, MCR-1 is likely to emulate other global resistance mechanisms,” the Lancet study claims. “Our findings emphasize the urgent need for coordinated global action.”