Nova Scotia fungus breathes life into fight against superbugs

McMaster grad student Andrew King with fungal sample. PHOTO: MCMASTER UNIVERSITY/HO.

McMaster grad student Andrew King with fungal sample. PHOTO: MCMASTER UNIVERSITY/HO.

Published: June 25, 2014

A lowly soil fungus from Nova Scotia has provided scientists with a powerful new weapon against some of the most alarming microbes on the planet.

A molecule, which a team at McMaster University plucked from the fungus, is enabling them to kill “superbugs” resistant to antibiotics.

The molecule, aspergillomarasmine A or AMA, latches on to a protein inside the bacteria and “rips out” zinc rendering the superbugs defenceless against powerful antibiotics it could previously resist, says microbiologist Gerry Wright, who heads the team in Hamilton, Ont.

Once they uncovered AMA, the researchers teamed up with a British microbiologist and showed the fungal extract had the same effect on more than 200 superbugs that have been causing misery around the world.

Then to underscore AMA’s promise, the researchers showed that by using the fungal compound in combination with an antibiotic protected lab mice infected with an otherwise lethal strain of resistant pneumonia.

Scientists says the findings, to be reported Thursday in the Journal Nature, offer hope in the battle against resistant bacteria causing growing international alarm. Continue reading →

Superbugs are on the rise in Canada, but not as fast as WHO suggests

Drug resistant gonorrhea under a microscope. PHOTO: THE CANADIAN PRES/PUBLIC HEALTH ONTARIO

Drug resistant gonorrhea under a microscope.
PHOTO: THE CANADIAN PRES/PUBLIC HEALTH ONTARIO

Published: May 1, 2014

A World Health Organization report on superbugs suggests Canada has one of highest rates of drug resistant gonorrhea in the world.

But Canadian health officials say they have no idea where the international agency got the data indicating 31 per cent of the microbes causing the sexually transmitted disease in Canada show resistance to third-generation cephalosporins, an antibiotic of last resort.

“We just don’t know where they pulled that number from,” says Michael Mulvey, who tracks resistant organisms for the Public Health Agency of Canada. Continue reading →

Canada phasing out antibiotic use in livestock

Canadian farmers use nearly 1,600 tonnes of antibiotics a year. PHOTO: LEAH HENNEL/POSTMEDIA NEWS/FILE

Canadian farmers use nearly 1,600 tonnes of antibiotics a year.
PHOTO: LEAH HENNEL/POSTMEDIA NEWS/FILE

Published: April 11, 2014

Amid growing international concern over the spread of superbugs on farms, slaughterhouses and supermarket meat counters, Health Canada is moving to phase out use of antibiotic growth promoters in Canadian livestock.

The drugs have been used for decades to spike the feed and water of chickens, pigs and cattle to boost their growth — “mass medication” that Canada’s top doctor, and many others, has said should stop.

In a statement Friday, Canadian drug producers say they have agreed with Health Canada “to phase out uses of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion.” The phase-out is expected to take three years. Continue reading →

As Canada dawdles, Denmark shows the world how to stop mass medicating animals

DSC_3704Published: April 18, 2014

COPENHAGAN, Denmark  — Michael Nielsen unlocks the door to his pig factory. He doffs his jacket, pants and muddy boots and zips on white coveralls. Then he steps into the maze-like complex housing several thousand pigs.

From the birthing room — where one enormous sow has just delivered 22 squirming piglets — to the insemination stalls where the next generation is in the works, Nielsen prides himself on smart, efficient farming.

Here in Denmark that means recording every single dose of antibiotic farmers use.

Unlike Canadian farmers who can import antibiotics by the truckload, Nielsen can only obtain them by prescription at a pharmacy. Use too many antibiotics and Nielsen would get a dreaded “yellow card” from the Danish government that has the world’s most comprehensive surveillance system for tracking and targeting overuse of antibiotics. Continue reading →

Superbugs slipping through ‘gaps’ and ‘loopholes’ in Canadian regulations

Electron microscope image of a C. difficile producing a spore.  PHOTO: DAVID GOUDLING

Electron microscope image of a C. difficile producing a spore.
PHOTO: DAVID GOUDLING

Published: February 20, 2014

Canada needs to better control and contain resistant microbes — or superbugs — that are killing and sickening thousands of Canadian each year, say leading doctors.

A good place to start, they say, is to close “loopholes” that permit Canadian farmers to import antibiotics by the truckload to feed to their animals – a practice that helps breed resistant microbes.

The doctors say the Harper government also needs to file gaps in oversight and provide much more “timely” surveillance reports on the resistant microbes found not only in Canadian health-care facilities but farmyards and meat counters.

The lack of a Canadian action plan is “an international embarrassment,” Dr. John Conly, medical director of infection prevention and control at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, told a Senate committee in Ottawa last week. Continue reading →