Drug-Resistant Superbug Found in Pennsylvania Woman

A rare strain of E. coli resistant to an antibiotic of last resort was spotted for the first time in the United States.


A terrifying strain of drug-resistant bacteria has made its first appearance in the United States — in a Pennsylvania woman.

The report, posted online Thursday as an accepted paper in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, says the E. coli found in a woman in the Keystone State “heralds the emergence of truly pan-drug resistant bacteria.”

A woman, 49, came to a Pennsylvania clinic and was found to have a rare strain of E. coli that is resistant to colistin.

Colistin is an important drug in fighting antibiotic resistance. Though it has been used on humans since 1959, it was also found to be toxic to the kidneys and nerves. It is primarily used as a “drug of last resort” for bacteria resistant to other antibiotics.

The mcr-1 gene was first discovered in China in November of 2015. Since then, E. coli with the mcr-1 gene has been discovered in samples in the Netherlands, Malaysia, Portugal, Denmark, and England. This sample from a Pennsylvania woman, who had not traveled outside the country in the past five months, is the first in the United States.

E. coli with the mcr-1 gene that are resistant to antibiotics “signals another step toward untreatable” E. coli infections, according to a report by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

The Washington Post quoted Center for Disease Control Director Tom Frieden in its report on the discovery: “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.”

In Nature last December, an infectious-disease doctor called the discovery of a colistin-resistant superbug “bad, [but] it isn’t apocalyptic.” But the magazine also writes: “It is only a matter of time, however, before some kinds of infections may not be treatable with any of our current antibiotics.”

“My administration, through the Department of Health, immediately began working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as the United States Department of Defense (DOD), to coordinate an appropriate and collaborative response between federal, state, and local entities,” said Gov. Tom Wolf. “We are taking the emergence of this resistance gene very seriously and we will take necessary actions to prevent mcr-1 from becoming a widespread problem with potentially serious consequences. The safety of Pennsylvanians is our utmost priority.”

“Antibiotic resistant bacteria is an urgent public health problem that we must focus on intensively,” Sen. Bob Casey tweeted in response to the news.

Follow @dhm on Twitter.