Pakistan reports first known drug-resistant typhoid epidemic

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The first known epidemic of drug-resistant typhoid is spreading in Pakistan, raising fears that more diseases worldwide are heading towards being untreatable. The typhoid superbug has infected at least 850 people since 2016. Experts fear it could radiate globally, replacing weaker strains of the disease, The Independent quotes reports as saying.

There is only one oral antibiotic left that is effective against the strain, which is resistant to five types of antibiotics. With just one more genetic mutation, doctors would be powerless to fight it, say researchers. It is the latest sign that the world could be heading towards a return to a pre-antibiotic era, following increasing worldwide concern about widespread overuse of the drugs. Without antibiotics, simple illnesses and common infections would become deadly.

The World Health Organisation has previously described antibiotic resistance as a “global health emergency”.

“This isn’t just about typhoid,” Dr Rumina Hasan, a pathology professor at the Aga Khan University in Pakistan, is quoted in the report as saying. “Antibiotic resistance is a threat to all of modern medicine – and the scary part is we’re out of options.”

Four deaths have been reported so far, according to Pakistan’s National Institute of Health Islamabad. And, the report says, at least one travel-related case has been detected in the UK.

Researchers from Britain’s Wellcome Sanger Institute who analysed the genetics of the new typhoid strain found it had mutated and acquired an extra piece of DNA to become resistant to multiple antibiotics.

Pakistani researchers say poor infrastructure, low vaccination rates and overpopulated city centres all contribute to the spread of typhoid, which is common in the country.

About 21m people contract typhoid each year, and about 161,000 die according to the World Health Organisation. The report says the only remaining effective drug against the disease is Azithromycin.

The Independent report

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