Scientists Are Freaking Out About a New Strain of Super Bacteria

The discovery is just weeks old.

Medical experts have worried for years that over-using antibiotics might lead to a global resistance to them among harmful bacteria. This is a legitimate scientific concern: there are multiple infectious bugs like MRSA that can confound even the most resourceful team of physicians.

But the world of superbug just got a whole lot scarier. Chinese and British scientists recently discovered a strain of the dreaded E.coli bacteria that actually passes along its ability to resist treatment to other strains. Not onlyis this unique strain resistant to most antibiotics, but it can pass it along to its buddies for maximum killing potential. Welcome to the age of the superbug.

Australia’s reported Thursday that the “unstoppable superbug” was first found in China “a few weeks ago.” While researchers were alarmed at the discovery, they hoped this particular strain would remain contained. Turns out, it didn’t:

But this week those hopes were dashed when researchers in Denmark revealed they had found a similar strain in poultry from Germany as well as in a Danish man who had never traveled outside the country.

The superbug has also been found in Malaysia.

It turns out the bug may have spread around the world from China due to Chinese cattle farmers feeding their herds an older class of antibiotic that tends to promote cattle growth — and ratchets up bacteria’s ability to regroup and develop resistance to any efforts to kill it. 

There are millions of reasons to fear the spread of an unstoppable form of E.coli; after all, the mortality rate for diseases arising from the virulent strains is around 11%, which isn’t negligible in the slightest. As recent e.coli outbreaks prove, the financial — and more importantly the human — costs could be massive. 

Photos by USDA