In 2010, a "superbug" called NDM-1 was found in India, Pakistan, the UK, the United States, Australia, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Canada. This new antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection has health officials worried about how those infected with it should be treated.

Multi-drug-resistant bacteria are often treated with powerful antibiotics, including carbapenems, a class of antibiotics that is essentially ineffective against this new superbug. A 2010 study published in the science journal The Lancet found that NDM-1 can still be treated with two other potent antibiotics named tigecycline and colistin. These are usually reserved for very serious infections when other treatment options have failed.

This limited antibiotic arsenal gives doctors few options when treating patients, and there is serious concern that multi-drug-resistant bacteria are developing at a faster rate than new antibiotics to help deal with the problem.

What's the best way to stop the spread?

Each health care facility has infection-control measures in place to stop the spread of resistant bacteria. This includes protocols such as proper hand-washing and isolating infected patients. You should also inform your doctor if you have had medical care in India or Pakistan.

In general, there are many simple precautions you can take to defend yourself against potentially harmful bacteria:

  • Practise proper hand-washing techniques. Since you don't always have access to water and soap, keep a bottle of hand sanitizer with you that has at least 62% alcohol in it.
  • If you have a cut, cover the broken skin with a clean bandage to prevent bacteria from spreading.
  • If your doctor has a prescribed an antibiotic for you, make sure you follow the instructions on how to take it. Finish all the medication, even if you start to feel better. Inappropriate use of antibiotics, including not finishing what you're prescribed, contributes to this growing trend of multi-drug-resistant bacteria.
  • Avoid sharing items such as towels, razors, or athletic equipment. Bacteria can live on these surfaces and be transmitted to others when they are shared.

For more information about superbugs, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.