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Warning : Superbug found in New Delhi water

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Urgent global action is needed to prevent  the spread of a multi-drug-resistant “superbug” after it was found in water  supplies in the Indian capital, doctors said in research published Thursday.

The study in The Lancet medical journal said that New Delhi  metallo-beta-lactamase 1 (NDM-1) producing bacteria were found in 51 out of  171 samples taken from water pools and rivulets and two out of 50 tap water  samples in the city.

NDM-1, first identified in 2009, is a gene that enables some types of  bacteria to be highly resistant to almost all antibiotics.

Positive samples included those collected in and around the commercial and  business hub of Connaught Place and the Red Fort area.

“International surveillance of resistance, incorporating environmental  sampling as well as examination of clinical isolates needs to be established  as a priority,” the team from Cardiff University in Britain wrote.

Mohammed Shahid, from the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital in  India’s northern Uttar Pradesh state, added that potential for a wider,  international spread of the superbug was “real and should not be ignored.”    The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), a state health unit, called  for calm in the capital city of 16 million residents.

“Hospitals should follow appropriate safety norms,” ICMR director-general  V. M. Katoch told the Press Trust of India. “If the report applies to India,  then it applies to Europe also.”

Independent researchers conducted the study in September and October last  year, soon after warning that the superbug could be spread by foreign  nationals coming to India for medical treatment.

At the time, the Indian government dismissed the research as scaremongering  and criticised the naming of the bug after the Indian capital.

But the World Health Organization later called for monitoring after cases  of infection were reported around the globe.

In the latest study, the researchers said the presence of NDM-1-producing  bacteria had “important implications” for New Delhi residents who were reliant  on public water supplies and sanitation.

NDM-1 was found in the bacteria that cause cholera and dysentery, lending  weight to the theory that it was not solely a hospital-acquired infection but  present in the environment.

The research suggested that the transfer of NDM-1 between different  bacteria was highest at 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) — within  the range of temperatures in New Delhi for seven months of the year.

“This period includes the monsoon season, when floods and drain overflows  are most likely, which potentially disseminates resistant bacteria,” the  authors said.

“Oral-faecal transmission of bacteria is a problem worldwide, but its  potential risk varies with the standards of sanitation.    “In India, this transmission represents a serious problem — 650 million  citizens do not have access to a flush toilet and even more probably do not  have access to clean water.”

The authors said it was unclear whether the data could be applied to other  Indian cities but there was an “urgent need” for follow-up studies, including  in Pakistan and Bangladesh, which have also been identified as sources.

New Delhi, April 7, 2011 (AFP)