A new case of the superbug gene MCR-1, which makes E. coli resistant to most antibiotics, was found in a toddler living in Connecticut. This is the fourth time that physicians detect a superbug in the United States.

Although patients have been able to recover after the infection, health experts continue to investigate the superbug due to the antibiotic-resistance crisis that is targeting the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has been monitoring the superbug since it first appeared in China. The institution said Friday that an American two-year-old girl is carrying the bacteria.

Research on antibiotic-resistant genes is currently a top priority for health institutions in the United States. Image credit: Live Mint.

The toddler got sick in June after she traveled to the Caribbean to visit friends and family, said a report issued by the CDC.

After the girl had returned to the United States, she was tested in the hospital where health experts found traces of the E. coli bacteria that contained the superbug gene.

The superbug gene MCR-1 made E. coli resistant to an antibiotic named colistin, which is commonly used as a last-resort drug when other medications fail to work due to multi-drug resistance.

Medical researchers and health experts have remained alert on the subject and have expressed their concern about the superbug’s ability to resist antibiotics such as colistin.

Antibiotic resistance is nothing new to the science world. This subject is currently classified as a worldwide public health problem, given that the human body has started adapting to threatening bacteria.

Each year, around two million Americans are infected with life-threatening bacteria that become resistant to antibiotics. At least 23,000 people have died as a consequence of it, said the CDC.

The toddler case 

The CDC’s report said the two-year-old traveled to the Caribbean for two weeks in June to visit family and friends. During her visit, she stayed and interacted with a pet cat and dog. Also, she was fed on chicken and goat meat obtained in a live animal market, researchers determined.

Food has been considered the primary source for the superbug’s spreading. The first case of the bacteria was detected on a Chinese pig in 2015. When the superbug is found, experts investigate the patient’s food ingestion and its origins.

Super bug
Lab sample containing the superbug gene MCR-1. Image credit: The Washington Post.

Food intake is being considered as the most likely source of infection in the toddler case, said Maroya Walters, an epidemiologist for the CDC.

The two-year-old girl began feeling sick while abroad, and she developed bloody diarrhea around June 12, according to the Washington Post. This was just two days before she returned to the States.

Health experts treated the child and took stool samples to search for infections and found a strain of E. coli. Physicians later analyzed genes in the bacteria and found the superbug.

“It was completely an incidental finding,” stated Alexander Kallen, who is a medical officer for the CDC and reports antibiotic resistance in the country.

The superbug investigation 

‘Superbug’ is the commercial name used by physicians when they discuss the antibiotic-resistant gene called MCR-1, which has been found in over 30 countries from all five continents.

Initial findings have reported the gene is food-borne. The MCR-1 has been found to spread quickly among different bacteria. Researchers fear that if the superbug is not found early, it could make humans resistant to multiple drugs.

A scientist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research tests a lab sample containing the MRC-1. Image credit: Walter Reed Army Institute of Research

The gene spreads among the human body by being carried on a plasmid, which is a DNA piece capable of transferring genes to bacteria.

If this were to happen, researchers have stated the gene would become an invincible superbug unable to be treated with any modern antibiotic.

In may, a woman infected with the MRC-1 in Pennsylvania made headlines. This was the first reported case of the gene in U.S soil, which made experts fear a future outbreak.

The patient’s body didn’t respond to colistin, but health experts were able to treat her with other antibiotics and she fully recovered.

After the case was reported, experts investigated the patient’s environment, food ingestions and tested her whole environment but couldn’t found the source of infection.

However, researchers did understand that the possibilities for a superbug outbreak were little and that the infection wasn’t that easy to get.

“These findings suggest that the risk for transmission from a colonized patient to otherwise healthy persons, including individuals with substantial exposure to the patient, might be relatively small,” wrote the CDC in a recent report on the case.

The CDC found two other superbug cases in 2014 and 2015, which affected a 76-tear-old man in New Jersey and a hospital patient in New York, respectively.

More research on the superbug is needed to better understand its outcomes and possible sources of infection.

Source: CDC