The End of the Line: First U.S. Person Found to Be Resistant to Antibiotics


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The end of antibiotics could be coming sooner than we think.

A 49-year-old woman in Pennsylvania was confirmed by the Defense Department to be carrying a strain of E. coli resistant to the antibiotic colistin, according to the Washington Post and a study published in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.


Colistin is considered a “last resort” drug (due to its nephrotoxicity) for battling superbugs, but now it seems the drug has met it’s match.

Last November, the colistin-resistant strain was found by researchers in China and then later discovered in Europe and Canada, according to a Defense Department blog post.

“It basically shows us that the end of the road isn’t very far away for antibiotics — that we may be in a situation where we have patients in our intensive care units, or patients getting urinary-tract infections for which we do not have antibiotics,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said according to the Post.

He adds that he’s been in situations where no drug can help a person, and that it’s “a feeling of such horror and helplessness.”

The woman is currently being treated at an outpatient military facility in Pennsylvania and her family and close contacts are being interviewed in efforts to determine how she may have contracted the strain.

From the Washington Post:

“Scientists and public health officials have long warned that if the resistant bacteria continue to spread, treatment options could be seriously limited. Routine operations could become deadly. Minor infections could become life-threatening crises. Pneumonia could be more and more difficult to treat.”

Antibiotic resistance is actually a natural phenomenon. It happens when some bacteria are more resilient than others, and so survive the antibiotic treatment to create stronger strains. They usually become resistant due to genetic mutation or by acquiring another bacterium’s resistance through a genetic transfer. Bacteria can also produce their own antibiotics against other bacteria, resulting in a low-level natural selection.

David Hyun, a senior officer leading an antibiotic-resistance project at the Pew Charitable Trust, said this discovery is “definitely alarming.”

“The fact that we found it in the United States confirms our suspicions and adds urgency to actions we need to work on antibiotic stewardship and surveillance for this type of resistance,” he continued.

The USDA announced that its seeking application for $6 million in funding for antimicrobial resistance research.


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