Friday, May 27, 2011

Superbugs can be tackled

By Vinod Varshney 

Superbugs scare everyone as no antibiotic in the world can kill them. Yet, there is no need to be over-scared so long as one can take measures to keep them at bay. In India they have been traced even in drinking water, but they get killed in chlorinated or boiled water provided it is boiled for at least 20 minutes.

Yet there is no reason to be in denial mode as has been displayed by Indian research bodies and the government as superbugs can multiply very fast.  

Originally the controversy related to superbugs in India was more because of the fact that the gene, giving them the invincible power, was given a ‘Delhi’ tag as though the superbugs are found only in Delhi or India. The reality is that this is a global problem. Superbugs have been found in US, China and Japan also.

Superbug controversy has raged again after the recent publication of a report in British magazine Lancet that superbug genes were detected in 2 out of 50 water samples collected from pits and ponds of various parts of Delhi. A year also a study was published in British Medical Journal which said doctors at P.D. Hinduja National Hospital and Medical Research Centre had found the rogue gene in as many as 22 of the 24 isolates collected in just 3 months.

This year’s Lancet report has been questioned on the ground that no Indian scientists were involved in it. It may be recalled in this connection that the earlier report of Dr. Timothy Walsh published in the British Medical Journal was produced in collaboration with Indian researchers. But when the controversy became too embarrassing for the entire medical sector of India and the government, those researchers were branded as anti-India, threatened and show-cause notices were served to a few of them. Who would like to rope in Indian researchers if they are exposed to such a fate after an honest research?

The ruling sentiments in India are that these reports were intended to tarnish the image of India and harm its growing medical tourism business. Therefore everybody asked why Delhi tag has been appended when superbugs have been found in several other countries too. The name of the superbug gene could just have been ‘Metallolatamase-1’ in place of ‘New Delhi Metallolatamase-1’.

But this should not be an alibi to ignore the threat of superbugs. But we to the horror of many Sheila Dixit, the Chief Minister of Delhi discounted the threat. Similar was the attitude of Indian Council of Medical Research which initially even described the British research as unscientific. But lately it has decided to do a nationwide research on this issue and has invited scientists to submit research proposals. The scientists of this apex organisation feel that the problem of super bug may be in all parts the country and at all levels of health care.

The research will also be carried out to study genes of microbes to know the areas which could be targeted by drugs to kill it. This would also help in development of better diagnostics. Research would also focus on developing methods for early diagnosis and detection of resistant strains. 
(The article was published in the May, 2011 issue of Lokayat)