The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced on Thursday, May 26, 2016 that E. coli resistant to the critical antibiotic colistin was found in a person in this country for the first time. In addition, colistin resistance was also found in a sample taken from a pig intestine that was analyzed by the USDA. The E. coli bacteria that was found in the pig was also resistant to ampicillin, streptomycin, sulfisoxazole, and tetracycline.
This is the scenario that food safety experts and doctors have been dreading for some time. Colistin is a last-resort drug that is used to treat patients who have multi-drug resistant infections. The bacteria has also been found in Europe and Canada. The patient with the resistant E. coli bacteria was treated in an outpatient military treatment facility in Pennsylvania. A recent report from the U.K. predicted that the number of global deaths from antibiotic-resistant infections could rise to 10,000,000 by 2050.
The gene that confers resistance, called the mcr-1 gene, is on a plasmid, a small piece of DNA that is not part of a bacterium’s chromosome. Plasmids can move from one bacterium to another, spreading antibiotic resistance between species.
Paige Tomaselli, Senior Attorney at Center for Food Safety said in a statement, “the discovery of these new ‘superbugs’ in the U.S. is very alarming and should be a wakeup call to both industry and regulators that quick action is needed.” While colistin is not used in animals in the United States, and is rarely used in people, the emergence of this gene is a serious development. The resistant gene was discovered in pigs in China in November 2015.
Three departments in HHS are working to prevent the spread of this resistant bacteria. CDC, FDA, and USDA are all working together. The CDC and the Pennsylvania Department of Health are working to identify close contacts of the infected person, and the USDA is conducting traceback investigations to find the farm where the pig originated. And the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) is continuing to search for colistin-resistant bacteria in the country. Changes in the antimicrobial susceptibility of intestinal bacteria found in people, retail meats, and food animals are being tracked.
In fall 2016, CDC’s Antibiotic Resistance lab network is going to provide infrastructure and lab capacity for seven or eight regional labs, and labs in all states and seven major cities to detect and respond to antibiotic-resistant organisms recovered from human samples. This will help the government investigate emerging resistance as it occurs.
HHS and USDA are reminding consumers that cooking all meat, poultry, and fish to safe internal temperatures kill bacteria and other foodborne pathogens, whether or not they are antibiotic-resistant. Chicken should be cooked to 165°F, solid cuts of beef to 145°F, pork to 145°F, and all ground meats to 160°F. In addition, handle raw meats carefully to avoid cross-contamination. Never put cooked meats on dishes used to hold raw meats, and keep raw meats away from foods, such as fruits and vegetables, that are to be eaten uncooked.