Health officials say there is no risk to the public after a "superbug" was discovered in a patient at a Brampton hospital, while experts say the emergence of the hard-to-kill infection is the latest in a line of new antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase (shortened to NDM-1) is an enzyme that can appear in a range of bacteria, mostly commonly E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae, and causes them to become resistant to some antibiotics, particularly those of the carbapenem family.
The medical community first became aware of the enzyme last year when people who had undergone surgery in India and Pakistan began bringing it back with them to the United States and Europe.
The case at Brampton Civic Hospital is Canada's third, after infections in B.C. and Alberta reported this spring. In all three cases, the patient had developed the bug after receiving medical treatment in a hospital on the Indian subcontinent.
The patient in Brampton was treated, recovered and released last week.
"Only hospitals in India and Pakistan are the definite risk factors in getting it. It's not considered a threat to the community here," said Andrej Silaj, spokesman for Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
Dylan Pillai, a medical microbiologist at the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion, said the likelihood of it spreading in Canada is minimized by the large geographical distances between the three cases and hospital practices such as quarantining infected patients and the use of rubber gloves.
"We have good infection control practices in our hospitals in Canada," he said.
The transmission of the bacteria also requires skin-on-skin contact, which makes it less dangerous than infections spread through the air.
NDM-1 infections can be treated with some antibiotics. Pharmaceutical companies haven't so far developed any new drugs to deal with the enzyme as they are more focused on battling more common superbugs like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, said Dr. Pillai.
Such superbugs have begun cropping up in recent years, as bacteria develops increasing resistance to antibiotics.
Christine Bessom, executive director of the Association for the Defence of Victims of Nosocomial Infections, a patient advocacy group, says the best way to defeat the microbes is to prevent their spread, rather than treating them after the fact, since the infections will ultimately develop resistance to new antibiotics.
"When penicillin was discovered in the 1940s, doctors thought it was the end of infectious diseases, but it was a false hope," she said.