Superbug NDM-1: Characteristics, dangers, and solutions

NDM-1 refers to a gene’s protein product that some bacteria make. A bacterial strain that carries NDM-1 will be resistant to even some of the strongest antibiotics.

Few current antibiotics can combat bacteria that have the NDM-1 gene, making it potentially dangerous.

NDM-1 stands for New Delhi metallo-ß-lactamase-1. A medical team first isolated the gene in a Swedish patient of Indian origin who traveled to India in 2008.

What led to the emergence of NDM-1 in India is not clear.

This superbug is widespread in India, and, by 2015, researchers and medical experts detected it in more than 70 countries worldwide.

In this article, we explore the nature and possible dangers of bacteria with the NDM-1 gene.

What is NDM-1?

An NDM-1 superbug is resistant to almost all antibiotics.

The NDM-1 protein product itself does not cause disease, but it has the potential to change the characteristics of bacteria.

The gene makes bacteria resistant to antibiotics. In this way, it can lead to a range of conditions, such as a urinary tract, bloodstream, or wound infections and pneumonia.

Carbapenems are among the most powerful antibiotics. Healthcare professionals use them as a last resort for many bacterial infections, such as those that E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae cause.

The NDM-1 gene allows the bacterium to produce an enzyme that neutralizes the activity of these antibiotics.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have classified NDM-1 and another similar protein called KPC as emerging issues in the field of infectious diseases.

A bacterium carrying the NDM-1 gene is considered a very powerful superbug.

The NDM-1 protein is different from the protein product that characterizes methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), another superbug. MRSA are a Gram-positive bacteria, while the bacteria that carry NDM-1 are Gram-negative, a different classification of bacteria.

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Possible dangers

The World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned that NDM-1 could see in “the doomsday scenario of a world without antibiotics.”

Before the discovery of antibiotics in 1928, many people died because of infections that are now avoidable.

NDM-1 raises fears that diseases in the future will not respond to antibiotics. If NDM-1 crosses over into other bacteria, secondary diseases will emerge, causing a health crisis as they spread around the world.

The WHO suggest that a woman who is pregnant, for example, could develop a kidney infection that transfers into the bloodstream with a strain containing NDM-1. In this case, no treatment options would be available that are safe for a woman during pregnancy.

The NDM-1 gene causes bacteria to produce an enzyme called a carbapenemase. Carbapenemase renders many preferred types of antibiotic ineffective, including carbapenems.

Carbapenem antibiotics are extremely powerful drugs that can counter the activity of highly resistant bacteria for which other antibiotics have not been effective. Even
carbepenems are ineffective in cases of NDM-1.

A bacterium with a plasmid containing the NDM-1 protein product has the potential to be resistant to many current antibiotics, as well as newer antibiotics that could become available in the near future.

Research is on-going into possible solutions to NDM-1.

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