Nightmare microbes could end the ‘antibiotic miracle’

Dr Michael Mulvey (R), Chief of Antimicrobial Resistance and Nosocomial Infections and biologist Tim Du check C Diff cell growth at the National Microbiology Laboratory in the Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health in Winnipeg.
Dr Michael Mulvey (R), Chief of Antimicrobial Resistance and Nosocomial Infections and biologist Tim Du check C Diff cell growth at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. (JOHN WOODS PHOTO FOR POSTMEDIA NEWS)
Published November 12, 2013
Ronald Hale was admitted to Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital with complications following lung surgery. The 74-year-old retired mine manager died days later, his body overwhelmed by a nightmarish bacterium from half a world away.

An Alberta woman, who had been in a rickshaw accident in India, had carried the microbe home and it got loose in the Royal Alex. Hale became infected and died when he could not fight off the microbe, which has acquired the biochemical machinery to evade nearly all antibiotics on the shelf.

While still rare in Canada, Britain and the U.S. are both struggling to contain these alarming microbes, which could spell the end of the antibiotic miracle.

Leading health officials are warning of a “catastrophic” threat, and Canadian doctors are calling for action to prevent the organisms from taking hold here.

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‘C. diff’ detectives track a global menace – to Canada

Electron microscope image of a C. difficile producing a spore, almost indestructible from the outside world.

Published November 12, 2013

Trevor Lawley keeps hundreds of samples of C. difficile in his freezer, each identified by the country in which the bacterium unleashed its unique brand of misery and death.

He tracked down Aus001 in Melbourne, Australia; collected Gla010 in Glasgow, Scotland; and picked up Lei017 in the Netherlands as part of an international hunt for the origin of “epidemic” C. difficile – a global menace  that pumps toxins into the guts of its victims. It has spread around the world’s hospitals in the last decade, killing thousands.

Lawley, a Canadian with a flair for microbial forensics who now works at a leading British research centre, spent two years travelling the globe collecting hundreds of samples of C. difficile.

Then, in his lab at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, near Cambridge, Lawley and his colleagues extracted the bacteria’s secrets.

Two strains of antibiotic resistant C. difficile that emerged in North America caused the global epidemic, the sleuths report.

One emerged in the northeast U.S. a decade ago; the second, which they call FQR2, surfaced in Quebec.

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Time to resume controversial flu experiments, scientists say

Staff cull chickens in a Hong Kong market on June 7, 2008, after the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus was found (AFP/File, Andrew Ross)

Staff cull chickens in a Hong Kong market on June 7, 2008, after the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus was found
(AFP/File, Andrew Ross)

Postmedia News, Jan 23, 2013

Leading researchers, including a senior scientist at Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory, say it’s time to resume controversial flu experiments that raised fears of  “doomsday” viruses escaping from the lab.

The scientists declared an end Wednesday to their voluntary year-long moratorium on experiments that makes highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu virus transmissible in mammals.

In a letter published in two major research journals,the researchers say the dreaded virus continues to evolve in nature and H5N1 virus transmission studies are “essential for pandemic preparedness.” Continue reading