Rare Superbug Gene Discovered on U.S. Pig Farm
Researchers have found a rare and frightening superbug gene on a U.S. pig farm and say their discovery suggests raw meat could carry the dangerous germs into the human population.
No pigs scheduled for slaughter carried the mutant gene, the researchers stressed, and they haven't found any threat to people yet. And none of the pigs were sick. But the mutant should not have been on the farm at all and they have no idea how it got there.
"It is an extremely rare gene. How it got on this farm, we don't know," said Thomas Wittum, chair of the veterinary medicine team at The Ohio State University, who led the study team.
The gene is called bla IMP-27 and it gives bacteria the ability to resist the effects of a class of antibiotics called carbapenems.
Carbapenems are considered an antibiotic of last resort, so germs that resist their effects are very difficult to kill.
Worse, this superbug gene is carried on an easily swapped bit of genetic material called a plasmid, and the researchers found it in several different species of bacteria on the farm.
That suggests the bacteria have been passing the gene around.
The worry is that the gene will get into bacteria that infect people. A type of antibiotic-resistant germ called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, are especially dangerous. If they get into the bloodstream and cause an infection, CRE germs kill half their victims.
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