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What Makes a 'True' Superbug?


Barry Kreiswirth, PhD, founding director, Public Health Research Institute Tuberculosis Center, professor of medicine at Rutgers University, explains the threat of a “true” superbug.

Interview Transcript (slightly modified for readability)

“The question always comes about superbugs; we all like the term ‘superbugs,’ which in my mind, usually refers to bugs that are difficult to treat because of antibiotic resistance. [However], I think the term has been used rather loosely because, from my perspective, the real superbug would be one that would be both difficult to treat and highly virulent.

The good news is, I don’t think we’ve actually come across the true superbugs yet, but that’s not to say that we’re not heading in that path. The concern about drug resistance is that, nowadays, a lot of the resistances we’re seeing in these gram-negative bacteria are mobile, which means [that] they can spread from one bacteria to the other. [And] so, unlike other resistant bacteria that have to spread by infecting one patient, infecting a second, infecting a third, [and so on], in this particular instance, with gram-negative resistance, colistin resistance, and carbapenem resistance, actual pieces of DNA can spread even within a person where a strain of Klebsiella can become resistant, can spread the resistance to other bacteria and likewise they can do that to other patients.

[The fact] that we have DNA carrying these resistance genes, spreading from strain to strain, is really the infection-control nightmare and the public health concern.”
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