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Apr 18, 2011 at 04:09pm IST

Govt playing down NDM-1 superbug study?

New Delhi: The Indian government has reacted strongly to a study published in the Lancet Journal for Infectious Diseases that tracks the NDM1-superbug to water samples in Delhi.

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit on Wednesday chaired a high level meeting and reiterated there is no cause for concern and yet has now been forced to set up a six month study of their own.

The study has been making the Indian health establishment see red.

"We are not denying that there is a problem, but just picking on one bug shows that the motives are unscientific," said the director general of Indian Council of Medical Research Dr VM Katoch.

One of the scientists working on the study, Timothy Walsh, speaking exclusively to CNN-IBN said, "Unfortunately I think the Indian government has vested interests in playing down the importance of NDM-1, which I think is very regrettable."

Talking about the study he said, "Essentailly what this means is that there are many people in New Delhi and perhaps in India and Southern Asia carrying the NDM-1 in their gut, and we believe, and I have to stress this, we have at the moment no evidence, but the data which suggests that maybe upto 100 million Indians actually carry NDM-1 positive bacteria in their gut."

"We knew that after our last paper, published in August, our Indian colleagues were very poorly treated by some elements of the media and the Indian officials and it came out that we could not use them to get the samples. Those who were keen felt threatened and they did not want to work with us. So we had to get the samples ourselves," Walsh said.

Walsh also said that the NDM-1 superbug may create a significant problem for India as it spreads very fast. "Other superbugs are not very good at spreading, but NDM-1 is remarkable. The gene is spreading in unrelated bacteria, which is a very worrying aspect of NDM-1. We have never witnessed such proliferation in different types bacteria and its very worrying that it's able to do this. This will be a significant problem for Indians," he said.

One won't catch the bug by drinking water in Delhi, but there is a cause for concern. Bacteria carrying the gene that produces the NDM-1 enzyme are resistant to very powerful antibiotics. The study published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal found the NDM-1 enzyme in eleven different types of bacteria in Delhi, including those that cause dysentery and cholera.

Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) expert Dr R Lakshminarayan said, "The bigger issue here is that earlier it was only one type of bacteria with NDM1 gene, but now, it's cholera etc bacteria as well, which basically means that we are losing the cheaper antibiotics that are available."

The government has now announced a six month study and patients to the emergency wards at selected hospitals in the capital, like Safdarjung and RML Hospitals will be tested for resistance to this specific form of antibiotic. If the results are positive, water samples around the hospital areas will be tested for the NDM-1 enzyme.

What is needed is stricter use of antibiotics. In fact, after the first Lancet study, tracing the superbug back to the sub-continent the Indian government announced it that would work out a new antibiotic policy, expected later this year.

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