Researchers claim that several wastewater treatment plants in China have been discharging water containing an antibiotic-resistant gene, called New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase resistance gene (NDM-1). Exposure to this gene might cause the development of infections that are practically untreatable by certain types of antibiotics, Chemical and Engineering News reports.
The NDM-1 gene was first identified in 2008, when a patient was hospitalized in India. Later, infections caused by bacteria containing the gene were also reported in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia. The bacteria containing the NDM-1 gene were immune to almost all types of antibiotics, even to those that are usually used a last resort. Health experts worry that discharging water containing the gene might lead to a higher number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, thus causing serious consequences for human health worldwide.
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In 2010, researchers at Rice University discovered a high concentration of NDM-1 gene in China's Haihe River. They investigated the water discharged by a number of wastewater treatment facilities and found that the gene was present at all stages of treatment at two plants located near the river. Researchers also found that the gene was able to affect other type of bacteria that it came in contact with, making them antibiotic-resistant as well.
According to Jeffrey Duchin, head of the public health committee of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, results from the study were alarming for public health.