Escherichia coli bacteria by scanning electron microscopy (SEM).
Scimat Scimat—Photo Researchers RM/Getty Images
By Helen Regan
March 26, 2015

Common bacteria could be on the verge of becoming antibiotic-resistant super bugs, according to a new study.

Resistance to antibiotics is in danger of spreading globally among the type of bacteria that’s associated with causing infections in hospitals, reports the Science Daily.

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that two genes that help build up this resistance to a particularly strong class of antibiotics called carbapenems can be shared fairly easily between a family of bacteria.

“Carbapenems are one of our last resorts for treating bacterial infections, what we use when nothing else works,” said senior author Gautam Dantas.

The study was based on incidents at two Los Angeles hospitals where several patients became infected with drug-resistant bacteria that had contaminated medical equipment.

Researchers studied a family of bacteria called Enterobacteriaceae. While not all of these bacteria cause illness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae as one of the three most urgent threats among emerging forms of antibiotic-resistant disease.

The team compared the genomes of carbapenems-resistant bacteria that had been isolated in the U.S. to those from bacteria isolated in Pakistan, expecting them to be genetically different. But what they found was the two resistant genes could be shared easily between bacteria from the two geographic regions.

“Our findings also suggest it’s going to get easier for strains of these bacteria that are not yet resistant to pick up a gene that lets them survive carbapenem treatment,” Dantas said.

As drug-resistant forms of Enterobacteriaceae become more widespread, he adds, “the odds will increase that we’ll pass one of these superbugs on to a friend with a weakened immune system who can really be hurt by them.”

[Science Daily]

Read next: Study Links Widely Used Pesticides to Antibiotic Resistance

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Write to Helen Regan at helen.regan@timeasia.com.

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