U.K. Has a New Superbug, Even Tougher Than the Old Superbugs

By Allison Bond | August 13, 2009 12:42 pm

hospitalResidents of the U.K. who go overseas for surgery have imported a new “superbug.” The bacteria, which is resistant to antibiotics and is even more difficult to treat than infamous infections such as MRSA, has killed two people and seriously sickened 18 others in the past year.

Britain’s Health Protection Agency has declared the infection “a notable public health risk” as the bacteria continues to pop up all over the U.K. In fact, 17 hospitals in Scotland and England have seen the infection, which is in the enterobacteriaceae family. Many of those contracting the superbug, which produces an enzyme that destroys even the most powerful antibiotics, have had cosmetic surgery, liver and kidney transplants in India and Pakistan [Daily Mail].

Experts say that although the new superbug has not yet infected many people, it has the ability to pose dangers similar to better-known virulent bacteria. “Compared to MRSA or C difficile or a regular pneumonia-type infection this is pretty small beer, purely in terms of the number of cases so far. But small beer is the way that things like MRSA started. These cases could be the start of what could go on to be a major cause of healthcare-acquired infections” [Guardian], says John McConnell, editor of medical journal The Lancet.

So-called medical tourism, which brought the infection onto U.K. soil in the first place, is only expected to increase in the future. More than 100,000 people went abroad for treatment ranging from heart operations to plastic surgery in 2007. A medical website specialising in treatment overseas predicted that the figure could double in two years, meaning 200,000 Britons would be seeking to have surgery abroad this year [Daily Mail]. Considering the bacteria’s virulence plus the expected increase in medical tourism, pharmaceutical companies are already being urged to begin manufacturing drugs to treat the new superbug and pre-empt a possible bacteria-based disaster.

Still, for now, the outlook seems bleak. “There’s the potential for this to become a substantial problem of antibiotic resistance within UK hospitals, and there’s not much we can do at the moment” [Guardian], says McConnell.

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Image: flickr / Jose Gaulao

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Gadfly

    OK, maybe a little off-topic, but didn’t the UK just finish chastising critcs of Obama-care for scare mongering? And 100,000 Brits go ELSEWHERE for medical care each year? Expecting to double in the next two years? Hello? Anyone home?

  • Jef

    i haven’t researched this, but i assume, from the types of surgeries they’re traveling for, that the current american system (as well as probably any other system currently employed) would not do any better at keeping these in-house. i assume the cosmetic surgeries are mostly unnecessary and therefore uncovered, as they would be by most american health insurances, and liver and kidney transplants are subject to waits, as is the case in america, but maybe less so in india and pakistan due to a number of factors.

  • http://clubneko.net robot makes music

    Hooray globalism: “Some US employers have begun exploring medical travel programs as a way to cut employee health care costs.”


    Hey Gadfly, medical tourism is GREAT for the US Economy, some 60 to 80,000 medical tourists get treated in the U.S. every year. And 100,000 citizens is 0.0017% of the British population. Not exactly an earth shattering number.

    And, as if that weren’t enough:

    “An estimated 750,000 Americans went abroad for health care in 2007, and the report estimated that a million and a half would seek health care outside the US in 2008. The growth in medical tourism has the potential to cost US health care providers billions of dollars in lost revenue.”

    That’s 0.0025% of Americans, going abroad to seek medical care. More than Britain both number and percentage wise.

    So please, pause a second and do a bit of fact digging, unless you are the kind of person that likes to ignore inconvenient consensus-reality facts.

  • Ian

    @1, Yes we are aware of the irony at play here. In fact the UK government recently encouraged patients who couldn’t receive care promptly in the UK to go abroad. I’m not convinced the possibility of importing ‘mega super bugs’ was even featured on the risk assessment.

  • http://yahoo.com 1Phil

    robot makes music – WOW, I did not know that Britain had just under 5.9 BILLION population. (one percent on which is (nearly) 59 million, 0.1 percent of which is (nearly) 5.9 million, 0.01 percent of which is (nearly) 590000, and 0.0017 percent of which is 100000. (robot makes music not so good math)

  • Brian

    Re: “…pharmaceutical companies are already being urged to begin manufacturing drugs to treat the new superbug …”.

    When are we going to learn that antibiotics are terribly compromised, and ‘more of the same’ won’t dig us out of the hole we are in? Antibiotics aren’t useless of course, but our bacterial foes are getting pretty good at checkmating conventional medicine. This is a dangerous complacency to think that we can out-innovate microbes in the antibiotic realm. Their cycle time is faster than ours and always will be.

    We need a totally different approach. Bring on the phages.

  • http://www.globalsurgerycenter.com medical tourism

    No doubt that U.K. Has a New Superbug which is better than the earlier one,great acheivement.

  • http://www.trudkodeks.ru/ трудовой кодекс р ф

    А почему вот вот так? Читаю, почему не раскрыть этот обзор.


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