acinetobacter baumannii (osjetljiva na colistin).jpg
Photograph: acinetobacterbaumannii.com

Scientists have found in the wild in Germany a gene that was first detected in China and which makes bacteria resistant to colistin, often hailed as the "last-resort" antibiotic.

Called mcr-1, the gene was detected in a human bacteria sample and is widespread in farm animals, reported Germany's Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and the Hanover University of Veterinary Medicine.

Colistin is administered in Germany predominantly for treating intestinal disease in farm animals, the BfR said. In human medicine it is used to treat infections by bacteria resistant to other, better-tolerated antibiotics.

Experts are alarmed, because mcr-1 is the first known resistance gene for colistin that is able to move freely among different strains of bacteria. It can be passed on from harmless intestinal bacteria to pathogens, thus making these pathogens harder to treat. 

Germany's University of Giessen, where mcr-1 was detected in the human bacteria sample, said the bacteria had also shown resistance to carbapenems, a class of antibiotics used to treat infections known or suspected to be caused by multidrug-resistant bacteria.

If such bacteria are resistant to colistin as well, it warned, "a hopeless situation without a treatment option can arise." 

First detected in China in late 2015, mcr-1 is particularly known to make the intestinal bacteria Escherichia coli and salmonella in poultry resistant to colistin, the BfR said.

According to the Berlin-based Robert Koch Institute (RKI), which is responsible for disease control and prevention, use of the relatively old antibiotic has increased in recent years as "a last-resort therapy option" in cases of drug-resistant bacterial infections.

Doctors had tended to avoid it because its side effects are significant.

After farm animals and humans in China were found to have mcr-1, whose presence some scientists attribute to the frequent use of colistin in Chinese livestock production, German samples of colistin-resistant bacteria were examined for the gene.

Scientists say the latest finds indicate that mcr-1 has been present in Germany at least since 2011.

It remains unclear, however, how widespread it is and in which direction it's transferable between animals and humans. Older bacteria samples are now to be examined.

The BfR said Danish authorities had reported detection of the resistance gene in poultry meat samples from Germany in early December 2015. Tests conducted in other European countries yielded positive results in farm animals and humans too.

Christian Meyer, agriculture minister of the north-western German state of Lower Saxony, has called for an end to what he said was the excessive use of antibiotics in animal farming. His state's share of the antibiotics administered to animals in Germany is more than half, he noted.

"If we don't change course, we're headed straight for a post-antibiotics era," Meyer remarked, warning that at some point there may be no effective antibiotics of last resort left, which would pose a general threat to health.

The initial reports by Chinese scientists on the discovery of the resistance gene for colistin in many farm animals and meat samples as well as hospital patients caused concern, said Petra Gastmeier, director of the Institute of Hygiene and Environmental Medicine at Berlin's Charite hospital.

"Still, we thought, 'China's far away,'" she said.

Should colistin, too, lose its efficacy, she pointed out, all that would remain are combination therapies of more than one medication. She said it was important that physicians and veterinarians work closely together to come to grips with the problem of antibiotic resistance.

"The use (in animal farming) of last-resort antibiotics that are especially important for human health should be totally prohibited," declared Hubert Weiger, chairman of Friends of the Earth Germany, an environmental protection organization.

The group said some 16 tons of last-resort antibiotics had been used in German animal farming since 2014, adding that the amounts had increased despite the overall decrease in antibiotics use in animals.

For protection against disease-causing bacteria in meat, the BfR says consumers should "carefully observe the rules of kitchen hygiene" to ensure that no bacteria are transferred from raw meat to other foods. In addition, meat should be thoroughly cooked before consumption.

Related stories

Latest news

Merkel calls for fewer EU regulations as nationalist sentiments grow

As voters in the Netherlands, France and Germany show increasing support for nationalist, euro-sceptic political movements ahead of this year's elections, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for limits on EU regulations.

French prosecutors transfer Fillon case to investigative judge

The French judiciary has opened a formal investigation in connection with presidential candidate Francois Fillon to examine whether the employment of his wife as a parliamentary employee was a sham, the country's financial prosecutors' office said Friday.

White House bars major news outlets from press briefing

Major news organizations, which were Friday blocked by the White House from attending an informal press briefing, condemned the move just hours after President Donald Trump described parts of the media as "the enemy of the people."

Report: German intelligence spied on BBC, other foreign journalists

Germany's intelligence agency monitored foreign journalists at the BBC, the New York Times and other news organizations from 1999 onwards across several countries, according to a Friday report from Der Spiegel magazine.

Classroom for Islamic religious education opened in Split

A classroom for Islamic religious education, whose equipment was financially assisted by city and county authorities, was opened in the coastal city of Split on Friday.

Ministry say no licences for export of military goods to Saudi Arabia issued in 2016

The Economy, Enterprise and Crafts Ministry on Friday issued a statement regarding media reports about export licences for military goods, stressing that in 2016 it did not issue any licences for the export of military goods to Saudi Arabia.

Croatia for preserving Bosnia's stability

Croatia on Friday supported the stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), calling on its authorities to adopt decisions in institutions, after a request by BiH Presidency Bosniak member Bakir Izetbegovic to review a ruling which acquitted Serbia of genocide.

Mexico is not a migrant "waiting room" for US, interior minister says

Mexico will not accept undocumented immigrants from other countries whom the United States plans to deport, Mexico's interior minister said Friday.

Right-wing populist Wilders declines first Dutch election debate

Candidates from nine Dutch parties answered questions from journalists Friday at the first national radio debate of the election campaign, but the leading candidate

Bosnian Croat reps insist on channel airing programmes in Croatian

Being one of the constituent peoples, the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina are entitled to a broadcaster that will air programmes in their native language, HNS BiH official Ivan Vukoja said at a news conference in Mostar on Friday.

Same-sex couples in Slovenia can marry

A Slovenian law allowing same-sex couples to marry went into force on Friday and the first civil registrar ceremony, between two women, is to take place in Maribor on Saturday, the town's Vecer daily said.

Moody's changes Agrokor's outlook to negative

The Moody's rating agency on Friday changed its outlook for the Agrokor food retailer from stable to negative, affirming its rating of B3.