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Delhi superbug threatening world, claim UK scientists

health and fitness Updated: Aug 12, 2010 01:38 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
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A new hospital-acquired superbug that cannot be treated using existing drugs is spreading from India to the rest of the world, claim British scientists. Indian surgeons rubbish the claim saying it’s just another attempt to stop thousands of pounds from leaving the floundering British economy to boost healthcare in India.

According to CII estimates, 1.1 million foreigners travel to India each year for cheaper treatments and surgeries. A heart bypass surgery costs $6,500 (R 3,03,550) in a corporate hospital in India, as compared to $30,000 (R 14,01,000)to $50,000 (R 23,35,000) in the US.

So convinced are British scientists about the superbug infection being fuelled by India’s Rs 1,200-crore medical tourism industry that they have chosen to provocatively name the newly-identified gene that causes the drug resistance as the New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1).

A study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, British scientists report NDM-1 is becoming more common in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan and is being imported back to Britain through patients returning after treatment.

Healthcare experts in India say the British are just worried because they are losing patients to hospitals here. “It’s a false alarm, I track infection and have not seen a single case in my hospital. Hospital-acquired infections are far more common in Britain and the West than in India,” said Dr Yatin Mehta, chairman, institute of critical care and anaesthesia, Medanta – The Medicity.

“We offer better surgical outcomes at one-fifth the cost,” he added. Dr Ashok Seth, chairman and chief interventionist, Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre said, “Most hospitals in India, including Escorts, have national and international accreditations... who send auditors to track quality — including infections — four times a year. The audits show that corporate hospitals here are safer than the West. They’re definitely safer than Britain’s National Health Service.”

For the study, author Timothy Walsh from Cardiff University and his team collected bacteria samples from patients admitted in hospitals in Tamil Nadu and Haryana, and from patients referred to Britain’s national reference laboratory between 2007 and 2009.

They found 44 NDM-1-positive bacteria in Chennai, 26 in Haryana, 37 in Britain, and 73 in other sites in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.

Several — not all — British NDM-1 positive patients had recently traveled to India or Pakistan for hospital treatment, including cosmetic surgery.

What’s particularly worrying, writes Walsh, is that the bacteria is resistant to all antibiotics, including carbapenem,
a class of the drugs reserved to treat infections caused by other multi-resistant bugs like MRSA and C-Difficile.