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Doctors just found a scary new drug-resistant ‘superbug’ bacteria

Published Jan 21st, 2020 2:43PM EST
superbug bacteria
Image: Oleksiy Maksymenko/imageBROKER/Shutterstock

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One of the biggest fears for doctors and health experts around the world is the steady emergence of so-called “superbugs,” or bacteria that are resistant to common antibiotics. Many are already known to scientists, and the microscopic arms race to beat them is ongoing. Now, researchers in Sweden have identified another one, and it came straight from a patient sample that is over half a decade old.

The discovery of the new drug-resistant strain of bacteria was reported in Frontiers In Microbiology, and while it’s not the end of the world, it’s certainly not great news.

When antibiotics first hit the scene nearly a century ago, they sparked a medical revolution. Unfortunately, over time it became clear that some bacteria were mutating their own defenses against the drugs, forcing scientists to develop new versions of the drugs. This back-and-forth battle is still being waged today, and researchers are constantly on the lookout for new strains of bacteria that have developed their own unique defenses against common drugs.

The newly-identified bacteria identified by researchers in Sweden was taken from a sample that had been collected from a patient way back in 2014. Only recently has it been identified as a new genus of bacteria after closer examination by scientists from the University of Gothenburg.

“This is a clear example of how important it is to be able to identify the direct causes of an infection. If the bacteria are identified accurately, doctors can prescribe specific antibiotics rather than needing to rely on broad-spectrum antibiotics,” Francisco Salvà Serra, first author of the research, said in a statement. “Broad-spectrum antibiotics favor the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria, including those causing disease. By extension, this results in reduced potential for treating infectious diseases.”

The ultimate fear for scientists and health officials would be the spread of a dangerous bacteria that is truly resistant to all existing forms of antibiotics. Some even argue that doctors should do their best to avoid prescribing antibiotics unless it’s absolutely necessary, as the overuse of the drugs is often blamed for the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria.