We Are Losing the Fight Against Superbugs

THE NATIONAL INTEREST — Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced an alarming development in the battle between humans and dangerous bacteria: Researchers at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center confirmed that a forty-nine-year-old woman in Pennsylvania was infected with a superbug resistant to colistin, an antibiotic of last resort, generally given to patients when everything else has failed.

Public health officials have been tracking this new kind of colistin resistance since it first emerged in China last year. Quickly thereafter, it was also discovered on multiple continents, in countries around the world. It was only a matter of time until it was discovered the United States. And now we know it is here.

What is most concerning about this particular superbug—a strain of E. coli—is the kind of antibiotic resistance it has. This form of resistance is highly transferable. It can spread more easily than other superbugs giving it the potential to easily combine with other types of drug resistance and create a whole new category of superbugs that are immune to every antibiotic we have.

This is a dangerous turning point, particularly as doctors have been turning to colistin more and more in recent years to treat increasingly drug-resistant infections. According to, a 2012 study showed colistin use is on the rise in Veterans Affairs hospitals as patients—in this case America’s military veterans—run out of options to treat their infections.

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