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New Delhi agrees to look into evidence of superbug in water

Although it has rejected a study by British researchers that found there was a superbug in water samples taken from the capital, the Indian government has formed a committee to look into the findings.

Until recently the NDM-1 strain was a hospital-born infection

Until recently the NDM-1 strain was a hospital-born infection

The Indian government has set up a committee comprising scientists and health officials to examine the findings of a recent study that found that an antibiotic-resistant superbug with the potential to spread untreatable strains of cholera and dysentery across the world was on the march on the subcontinent.

A group of international researchers recently published findings that the bacteria was present in common water sources across New Delhi.

In an article in the British medical journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, scientists explained that New Delhi metallobeta-lactamose (NDM-1), a bacterial strain that was explicitly named after the Indian capital, was no longer a hospital-born infection but had been found in the environment.

They collected 50 public tap water samples and 171 swabs of seepage water from sites within a seven-mile radius of central New Delhi from September to October last year to make their tests. 

'Many on subcontinent carry NDM-1 in their gut'

"We found NDM-1 in fairly large numbers, in just under 30 percent of the sewage outflows or seepage samples, and in 4 percent of water samples around Delhi," explained Timothy Walsh from Cardiff University's School of Medicine.

"Essentially what this means is that there are many people in New Delhi and throughout India and southern Asia that carry NDM-1 in their gut."

NDM-1 has been found in water samples from across Delhi

NDM-1 has been found in water samples from across Delhi

The study's findings have made the Indian health establishment see red. Officials have pointed out that the study was not scientific but had "other motives" for targeting India. They have dismissed it as "a waste of time" and accused the scientists of stealing the water samples. 

'Superbugs are everywhere' 

"Such superbugs are everywhere," said Dr V M Katoch, the director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research. "They are not the characteristic of one country. India has a problem but like other countries. These bacteria are present elsewhere too."

Superbugs are present in hospitals all over the world

Superbugs are present in hospitals all over the world

"I think we need to focus on the issue and not the paper," agreed Dr R Lakshminarayan from the Public Health Foundation of India. "This is one in a long series of papers that have shown that drug resistance is a major issue for India. That antibiotics are failing against important bacteria that one can pick up while in hospitals in India, and that is really the issue."

He said that the way to address the problem was by improving water and sanitation in India, making better use of antibiotics and improving hospital infection control. 

So far, around 70 cases of NDM-1 infection have been recorded in the UK. Australia has also registered at least three cases of infection – two of the patients had spent time in Indian hospitals.

Researchers warn that the potential for NDM-1 bacteria to become endemic worldwide is "clear and frightening" and say new drugs must be developed to fight the threat. 

Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Anne Thomas

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