Drug-Resistant 'Superbug' Found in New Delhi Water

india drawing water photo

Photo by ILRI via Flickr CC

A new strain of "superbug" is causing alarm after it was found in the water supplies of New Delhi. Out of 171 samples taken from water pools and 50 samples of tap water supplies in and around Connaught Place, a hub for business, and the Red Fort areas, the New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1 (NDM-1) producing bacteria were found in 51 of the pools, and 2 of the taps. While the frequency with which it was found is troubling, more so is the fact that the bacteria carrying NDM-1 are resistant to almost all antibiotics. The NDM-1 can be transferred between various types of bacteria, including those that cause cholera and dysentery. Yahoo News reports that independent researchers found last year that the superbug could be spread by foreign nationals visiting India for medical treatment. Now in this more recent study by a team from Cardiff University in Britain, the NDM-1-producing bacteria could pose a serious problem for residents using public water supplies.

The particular problem comes with the fact that the most likely times for the NDM-1 to spread among bacteria types happens to occur during warmer times of the year, including monsoon season when floods cause overflows of sewage systems and bacteria is having a heyday.

The authors of the study note, "In India, this transmission represents a serious problem -- 650 million citizens do not have access to a flush toilet and even more probably do not have access to clean water."

The problem of this superbug goes beyond resistance to drugs -- something we're seeing happen more often with the prevalence of antibacterial soaps, over-use of antibacterial medications and so on. Because of its location, the problem flows over into a serious lack of proper sanitation and access to clean water supplies. More people in India have access to cell phones than to toilets, and water supplies are a serious concern as the population grows. Without addressing the problem of clean water, can the "superbug" issue be properly handled?

Times of India has an interview with the researchers in which they note:

Is all of Delhi's drinking water infected?
No, only samples of tap water collected from Ramesh Nagar & south of Red Fort were contaminated. But the study was within a 12km radius of central New Delhi.
What should you do?
Boil water or filter it. Boiling for 20 minutes kills all bacteria. Wash hands and follow general hygiene. Don't pop antibiotics at will. It will make them ineffective.
What's the superbug's effect?
By making bacteria immune to drugs, including antibiotics, it could make it nearimpossible to treat diseases like cholera & dysentery.

While this particular superbug seems to be resistant to most current antibacterial drugs (somewhat not surprising considering 53% of Indians take antibiotics without a prescription), a new one may be created to deal with it. Until then, the larger problem will be addressing the education of people about dealing with bacteria, and focusing on clean water supplies -- something that is now considered a basic human right.

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