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Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Found in Food Product for First Time

Implications are alarming, authors say

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada have found the first instance of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in a food product — Pseudomonas in a squid sold at a Chinese grocery store. The investigators reported their find to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which promptly issued a warning letter in its open-access journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

It’s well known that the antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections are becoming less potent as bacteria develop resistance to them. Scientists have continued to come up with new and better antibiotics as a result. Recently, however, that has become more difficult as fewer and fewer remedies have been found, leading scientists and agencies, such as the CDC, to issue warnings suggesting that health care providers may soon run out of options altogether.

Currently, the medical community uses standard antibiotics along with “last resort” antibiotics called carbapenems — the last line of defense against multidrug-resistant gram-negative bacteria.

Unfortunately, some “bugs” have already developed resistance to certain kinds of carbapenems. These resistant organisms produce carbapenemases — enzymes that render carbapenems ineffective.

The Pseudomonas found in the squid in Canada was resistant to all beta-lactam drugs tested, including ertapenem. Testing confirmed that the bug contained VIM-2 carbapenemase.

This is the first known instance of such an organism occurring in a food product. According to the investigators, the implications are alarming.

“This finding indicates that the risk for exposure to carbapenemases extends beyond persons with particular travel histories, previous antimicrobial drug use, or hospitalization and into the general public,” they wrote. “There is an urgent need for expanded resistance surveillance for carbapenemase-producing organisms and their resistance plasmids in food products that are not captured under current programs.”

Most governmental programs geared to examining food products for safety look only for the usual suspects, such as Escherichia coli and Listeria. If relatively harmless resistant bacteria are in the food chain, it’s only a matter of time, the researchers say, before harmful organisms develop the same resistance, leaving physicians with no treatment options.

Sources: Medical Xpress; June 13, 2014; and Emerging Infectious Diseases; July 2014.

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